In that moment, with Alicia Johns staring at her as if she had gone quite mad, Marie Potts was quite certain of one thing. That she had done nothing to deserve this, no matter what the Council might say.
“Are you alright Miss?”, and there was an infuriating edge to Alicia’s voice, there always was of course, and Marie took a deep breath to maintain her professionalism.
“I understand it seems a lot to take in, and in your position I would be disbelieving as well. Regardless, it is true and I need you to listen to me”, and even before she had finished the sentence, she could see Alicia glancing around, as if she were checking whether this was some over-the-top prank that the teachers had decided to play.
“I’m sorry but…”, and before Alicia could finish, Marie waved her hand to cut her off,
“Tonight, come out to the stables once everyone else has fallen asleep. I will show you and then we won’t have to go through this ordeal of me convincing you”, she said. Alicia’s eyebrow raised and a smirk tugged at the corner of her lips.
“What if I don’t turn up?”
“Oh I know you quite well Miss Johns, I’m quite certain it’s not in your nature to just stay tucked up in bed after what I’ve told you. I will see you tonight”, and Marie turned on her heel and made course back to her room. She had expected a quiet life when she had left the Council and relocated to Cornwall. Of course she had entertained ways that they might find to pull her back in, after all no-one ever truly retired from the Council. What she had not expected was that Alicia Johns of all people was a Potential Slayer.
Marie paused at her door and mentally corrected herself, because Alicia was a Potential no more. With another sigh, she decided she must have really upset someone to deserve this.
Alicia Johns does not believe in monsters (not really) and she certainly doesn't believe a word of what Miss Potts has told her. Yet she has found herself traipsing through the countryside in the middle of the night none-the-less.
Alicia did rather wonder - in between ducking under tree branches and stepping over roots - whether this were some elaborate prank that the teachers had concocted to make her look foolish. Perhaps they had finally had enough of her tricks and jokes and this was a way to make her look stupid in front of the rest of the school. After all - how would Alicia Johns live down the fact that she believed in monsters?
Even as that possibility grew in her mind, Alicia pushed onward. Even if she were walking into what would be the ruination of her reputation, setting her up for years of mockery, then she would rather do that with her head held high than slink back to her dorm room and hide away.
After all, what if it weren’t a prank?
Miss Potts did not seem like the type to be involved in a prank that would humiliate a student, no matter how infuriating that student might be. She also didn’t seem the type to be involved with the disposal of monsters though so perhaps that wasn’t the right way to be thinking about this situation.
Alicia stumbled over a half buried rock and only just prevented a very undignified tumble to the floor by grabbing hold of a nearby tree branch. The bark was cold and rough, scraping a layer of skin from her palm. Alicia hissed and shook her hand, the touch of the cool air as she did making her wince. How much further was she to walk anyway? She must be long off of school property by now and the moon was threatening to disappear behind clouds.
Alicia quickened her pace, trying to listen out for any noises as she walked. There was a thought threatening to spread through her mind, that if she were to believe that Miss Potts were being genuine and honest then she was out in the middle of the countryside, in the dark, with no means to defend herself, and surrounded by monsters. The temptation to run was almost overwhelming but Alicia suppressed it - haste was more likely to get her hurt anyway.
The trees and bushes fell away to nothing as Alicia stumbled out into open space. She paused for a moment and caught her breath, giving herself time to locate the person she could feel watching her.
She rolled her eyes when she saw that she had stumbled upon a graveyard, and the idea that this was a big joke returned to her. Finally spotting Miss Potts, with an umbrella held over-head against the beginnings of rain, Alicia crossed the graveyard with long strides.
“Jolly nice of you to invite me out here”, Alicia greeted, “Shall we get on with it then?”
“Maintaining your flippancy even in the face of danger I see”, Miss Potts replied, “Although given your lack of preparation, it would seem you underestimate the danger”.
“If it were that dangerous, you wouldn’t have had me come out alone”, Alicia wished she brought a thicker coat, “Besides, if you’re meant to be this overseer of monster killers, I’m sure you’ve got a weapon for me”. Miss Potts raised an eyebrow - a look Alicia had seen many time before - but she did reach inside her coat and pull something out to hand to Alicia.
“A pointy stick?”, Alicia asked, now more convinced than ever that this was a joke, “If there are monsters out here wouldn’t a gun or a sword be more appropriate”.
“A gun draws attention, not to mention it’s rather difficult to hit the heart with a bullet”, Miss Potts adjusted the position of her umbrella, “A sword is better but needs training, and it’s not quite so conveniently stored in a handbag”.
“Great. Pointy stick it is”, Alicia rolled her eyes and bounced the stick from hand to hand, “Where to now?”
“Now we wait”, Miss Potts said, “It shouldn’t take long”.
“I have to say, I didn’t expect you to commit to this joke for so long”, Alicia said, grimacing as the rain got heavier, “I was expecting you to be waiting outside the school doors to make the big reveal”.
“Joke all you like, you won’t be joking about it after tonight”, then Miss Potts paused as if in thought for a few moments, “actually, given your personality, you probably will still be joking. But you will believe me”.
Alicia sighed and crossed her arms across her front, careful not to poke herself with the stupid stick that Miss Potts had handed her. It was difficult to know how long had passed with them stood there in silence, but she as Alicia were about to say that she had had enough and was heading back, a sound stopped her.
It wasn’t loud, but there was something out of place about it. Scratching. Digging. Alicia turned on the spot, tried to find out where the noise was coming from. Quite forgetting herself, she walked towards the noise, stepping carefully between graves. The ran was still at a drizzle and it made the earth slick and spongy beneath her feet.
If she hadn’t known better Alicia would have said her heart near stopped and her blood ran cold as she realised what was making the noise. She stopped, a few feet from the grave, and stared. The earth lifted as if pushed from beneath then sunk as the scratching continued. It happened again, and Alicia felt like she was rooted to the spot.
A hand burst forth from the dirt and she found her movement, staggering backwards a few steps and tightening her grip on the pointed stick. The hand disappeared - for just long enough that she thought she might have imagined it - and then reappeared with such force that chunks of earth were scattered around her feet. A second hand appeared.
It was a bewildering sight, and Alicia couldn’t get her thoughts to slow down long enough for her to really work out what was happening. The head that followed, the body that followed and crawled, face down in the rain and the dirt, out of the grave looked human. It looked alive. Was this some kind of sick pantomime?
“I assure you - this is quite real”, Alicia jumped at the sound of Miss Potts voice, “this is what you will be facing, and more, these are the monsters that you are predestined to fight”.
“That’s not a monster”, Alicia couldn’t believe herself when she stammered, “th..that’s a human being”.
“It was once a human, now it’s not”, Miss Potts took a step back, “His soul is long destroyed. Your job is to destroy his body now. A stake to the heart is the simplest way”. Alicia stared at the pointed stick in her hand, surely her teacher couldn’t be suggesting she...she…
She looked up at the figure in front of her; he seemed disorientated and confused. Then his head lifted, and slowly he turned around. Alicia recoiled. His face was deformed with bumps and as he opened his mouth in what she assumed was meant to be a smile, she could see his canines descended into impossible points. His eyes - oh God his eyes - yellow and lifeless met hers and the smile became wicked and cruel.
Confronted with the charging form of the creature in front of her - Alicia’s basic instincts kicked in and she darted out of the way of his attack, throwing herself over the nearest gravestone and rolling out of harm’s way - hoping that her teacher had had the sense to do the same. There was eerie silence for just a moment and then the monster appeared, vaulting over the gravestone to land on top of her. Alicia fumbled her pointed stick nearly crying out in despair as it rolled out of her reach, and she thrust her hands out at the last moment to block the creature’s face from descending upon her.
Was he trying to bite her?! No not he - it. She couldn’t think. Was Miss Potts going to let her get eaten? She hit the creature as hard as she could and shoved it off of her. She scrambled towards her stick and snatched it up, but the creature was almost upon her again. She made for a statue and put it between them - moving so that the stone figure was between her and the monster as she gathered her thoughts.
It was almost rabid now, the creature in front of her, becoming more and more irate as she mirrored each of it’s moves - keeping the statue between them.
It would seem that at the very least - this creature wasn’t that bright.
Even so, she only had moments before it made a dash the she didn’t mirror in time, and Alicia glanced frantically for something - anything - to defend herself from the creature’s fangs whilst she tried to force the pointed stick through it’s chest. Her eyes fell on the rubbish bin maybe ten metres from them. She took her chance, reasoning that she might not get another, and ran. She could hear the footsteps closing in behind her and she snatched the lid off the metal bin, sending the rest of the bin and it’s contents scattering across the ground. She spun on the spot and slammed the bin lid into the face of the creature, finally allowing herself a smirk at the satisfying crunch of it connecting with it’s face. She pushed forward, throwing the creature backwards to the floor with a crunch and drove the pointed stick down into it’s chest.
She had expected resistance, or the sound of flesh tearing, but there was only a crunch as the stick broke through bone. Silence. For just a second. Then the body beneath her went rigid for another second and exploded into dust.
Alicia hit her cheekbone on the bin lid as she clattered to the floor, dust rising around her. She couldn’t move as her mind raced to try and piece together the ridiculousness of what had just happened. She must be dreaming, her overactive imagination filling in blanks for what she thought might happen when she met up with Miss Potts. That had to be it...it had to be…
“Clumsy but effective, that was rather good for your first slay”, Miss Potts’ voice shook her from her thoughts, and Alicia accepted the extended hand to be pulled to her feet. Somewhere in all the muddled thoughts she was rather surprised at the strength of her teacher, but it was lost amongst all the other more pressing thoughts.
“Wh..what was that?”, was all Alicia could manage, and Miss Potts held the umbrella over them both and started to walk, clearly trusting that Alicia would just fall into step.
“That was a vampire - once a human”, Miss Potts explained, “It’s just one of many monsters that roam the earth that most people don’t seem to know about. Unsurprisingly given your title, they do make up the bulk of your duties”.
“My title?”, Alicia asked.
“Vampire Slayer”, Miss Potts replied as she guided them towards the exit of the graveyard, “There is always one in each generation - and you are this one’s”.
“I don’t understand”, Alicia followed Miss Potts to what she realised was her teacher’s car.
“I don’t suppose you do - but you will, with time”, Miss Potts closed her umbrella and shook off the rain, then opened her boot to put it inside.
Alicia got into the car at Miss Potts’ instruction and slumped into the passenger seat. It was only once she sat down that her body began to shake.
“So who are you then Miss?”, Alicia asked eventually, once they had driven for a few minutes, “because you’re not just a teacher”.
“No - that’s true”, Miss Potts smiled and glanced at Alicia, “and I think we might be past you calling me Miss now - Marie will do when we are not amongst the other students - and I am a teacher just not only the type of teacher you’re thinking of”.
“You’re very good at this cryptic not answering questions properly”, Alicia knew she sounded petulant but she didn’t care.
“You will get your answers Alicia - but first I think you need a decent wash and some clean clothes, preferably before anyone else sees you”.
Alicia couldn’t recall actually noticing the tree branch. She must have because she ducked under it, only realising that she had when there was the thud of an undead body colliding with the branch behind her. She widened the distance between her and the vampires, leading them back towards open ground.
Marie had tried to prepare her for the increase in speed, stamina and strength; of course Alicia had responded with flippant comments about superheroes and superpowers. Not that she knew much about superheroes but she’d seen Darrell’s comics (and teased her enough that Darrell hid them so well each term that Alicia had been unable to find them for the past few terms), so she had some ideas.
Clearly Slayers didn’t get quite the same advantages as Superman.
There was a crunch in front of her and Alicia quickly changed direction as she tried to keep track of how many vampires were in pursuit. If she weren’t careful then they would surround her. Deciding that she needed to find open space sooner rather than later, Alicia took another turn and ran straight.
There was something quite jarring about bursting out from trees and branches and foliage to wide open space, and it always made Alicia pause for just a moment as she tried to reorientate herself - no matter how many times Marie had told her how dangerous that distraction was.
The vampire that tackled her from behind certainly proved that point far better than Marie had done. All the air was knocked from Alicia’s lungs as she hit the floor but she only had a split second to gasp for breath before she threw the vampire off of her back and got back to her feet.
Four. She had miscounted. Marie had only let her fight unsupported against two vampires at a time.
She didn’t have time to consider her chances though because a second vampire was closing in. Alicia grabbed for the stake on her belt and felt a rush of panic when she grabbed at air. It must have fallen off amongst the trees. She grabbed the vampire by the shoulders and threw him, using his own momentum to propel him into the nearest bush. The disorientation gave her enough time to take off running again. She needed a weapon. She looped back in towards the tree line and snapped the most “stake like” branch she could find off a tree. She grimaced when she realised how blunt it was - it was going to take a lot more force to drive it through a chest.
She returned her attention to the vampires - staggered into two groups if she could kill the first pair quickly enough. Marie had drilled dodges and attacks and taking opportunities for kills into Alicia until she had been halfway tempted to throw everything on the floor like a child and tell Marie that was enough - she didn’t much fancy being a Slayer if this was what she had to sign up for. Right now though, she was grateful for it.
The first vampire side stepped her first attack but missed the sweeping leg that she used to knock him onto his backside. Alicia slammed that branch down as hard as she could - the chest crunched just as she’d dreaded - and the familiar sound of the vampire dusting followed. The time it took to do that had allowed the second vampire to close in and with little room to move, Alicia went for the inelegant but effective poke-them-in-the-eyes approach.
“That is disgusting”, Alicia pulled her hand back - leaving the vampire writhing in front of her and clutching at his eyes - as she quickly wiped her hand off on her trousers. Thankfully Marie had provided her with extra clothes for her new extra-curricular activities. Never mind the impracticalities of slaying in her school uniform, Alicia wasn’t quite sure how she would explain to Matron what all the strange substances were appearing on her clothes.
She side stepped forward and slammed the branch into the vampire’s chest, freezing him for a second before he too disappeared into a cloud of dust. Alicia couldn’t help but hold her breath, absolutely not wanting to inhale any particles of dead vampire. Or extra dead vampire, given that they were already dead before she re-killed them.
Shaking herself from her thoughts, Alicia turned her attention to the two other vampires who had stopped their pursuit of her and were now doubling back on themselves. Alicia chased after them, closing in on them with each stride. The vampires disappeared over the brow of the hill and Alicia willed her legs to move faster before she lost sight of them.
The hand that grabbed her arm sent her off balance and she stumbled, barely saving herself with an undignified scrabble of her palms against the earth as she struggled to regain her balance. She turned to face her assailant and found Marie staring back at her.
“What are…”, Alicia started but Marie had started to move silently in a diagonal approach up the hill. Alicia swallowed her pride and followed her. Marie had obviously expected her to do so because she indicated where she wanted Alicia to go, and then continued on her way. Alicia kept low as she moved into position and waited for Marie’s next instruction. The sharp gesture prompted her into action and she rounded the curve of the hill and found herself staring at the back of a vampire. Another two stood opposite, their faces almost comedic in their shock. Alicia grabbed the vampire in front of her and wrestled it to the floor; she had no time to be elegant about her fighting. One punch to the face and a follow up elbow subdued the monster long enough for Alicia to drive her make-shift stake into it’s chest. A scream was silenced mid-expulsion and then nothing. Alicia immediately got up to assist Marie but found that she had already dealt with the others.
There was silence; Alicia knew it was so she could consider her actions, and eventually she spoke,
“I thought there were two of them”
“Even if there were, they were ready to ambush you”, Marie gave Alicia a moment to look around. The brow of the hill masked this abrupt drop. She would have stumbled right into it and likely have been overwhelmed before she had time to gather herself.
“You didn’t think”, Marie finished for her, “And if I hadn’t been here there is a good chance you would have been killed”.
“I could have taken them”, Alicia stopped just short of stuffing her hands into her pockets when she realised how petulant she would look.
“Two? Perhaps”, Marie returned her weapon to her waistband, “Three? I have my doubts. Your stake might not have lasted the fight either”. Alicia glanced at the branch in her hand, splintering and split, leaving cuts across her palm.
“I improvised”, Alicia offered, surprised at the feeling of hurt that was surfacing in her chest. Something in her voice must have betrayed her because Marie’s face softened - just a little - and she nodded.
“You did, you also dealt with the first two well, but all that might have been undone because of a burst of over-enthusiasm”, Marie said, she let her words sink in and then continued, “Still, the nest is no more. I will return there in the morning to douse it in holy water to ensure no other vampires take up residence there. It is about time we returned to school”, Marie glanced at her watch, “Since it is nearly two in the morning and you are to be up again at seven”.
“I don’t get extra time in bed for being the Slayer?”, Alicia was grateful to find her voice had steadied, “Bit unfair”.
“How would you suggest I explain that to your classmates? The only thing I can offer you is going to the San”, Marie said as they began to walk back towards school. Alicia pulled a face,
“I don’t get ill”
“Of course, you have a reputation to protect - I forgot”, and Marie sounded almost like she were teasing her for a moment, and then her voice became serious again, “You will have to find a way to balance school and Slaying; many do not manage both and find something must give”.
“Most Slayers aren’t me”, Alicia shot back and grinned when she earned herself an eyeroll from her Watcher.
“No...no they are not”
Alicia crumpled into the shade and watched as her mentor strode away to resume her teaching duties. Alicia waited until she was out of sight and then lay down on her back and covered her eyes with one arm, glad that she had a free period.
She had rather thought that Slayer abilities would have translated to endless stamina. Her stamina was better - of that there was no doubt - but the fact that she could still be bested by her teacher of all people must have been a rather poor reflection of her Slayer powers.
“She’s quite ruthless isn’t she?”, and Alicia squinted out from under her arm to see Rupert Giles stood nearby, one of his endless supplies of cigarettes between his lips. She still wasn’t quite sure who or what he was but Marie was definitely responsible for him somehow.
“One way to put it”, Alicia pushed herself up to a sitting position, “You don’t do a very good job of pretending to be the groundskeeper you know that?”. Rupert just grinned broadly and leant back against the tree as he smoked,
“I think you know bloody well that I’m not a groundskeeper”, he said and Alicia smirked.
“What are you then exactly? Miss Potts isn’t exactly the chatty type”, she shimmied herself backwards to lean against the tree. Rupert was silent for a while - no doubt trying to work out how much he should or shouldn’t say - and then finally answered,
“I’m meant to be a Watcher in training”, he took another smoke, “I was also meant to be dead and then meant to be kicked out of the Watcher’s Council though so you can figure how little faith I put into meant to be’s”.
“That why you’re here then? You did something stupid, nearly got killed, the Council were all for throwing you out and Miss Potts took pity on you”, and Alicia grinned as Rupert’s eyebrows shot up and he nearly choked on his cigarette smoke,
“Too bloody clever for your own good aren’t you”, he scuffed the cigarette out on the sole of his boot and then dropped it into an empty flower pot at his feet.
“So I’ve been told”
“So you about ready to do some proper hunting?”, Rupert asked, “I know Marie had you raid that vamp nest with her a few nights ago but I’m thinking you should be hitting some of the others that are cropping up”
“Miss Potts hasn’t said anything…”
“So you always do what you’re told then? That’s a bit of a disappointment”, and Rupert looked as if he were about to leave so Alicia spoke quickly,
“What did you have in mind?”. Rupert grinned at her and Alicia held his gaze, hoping she came across as defiant rather than over-eager.
“You up for meeting me out here about twelve tonight? We’ll go hunting together and Marie’ll be none the wiser”, Rupert asked.
“Twelve it is”.
Alicia pulled her coat tighter around herself as she hurried out to the field, trying to keep to the shadows as much as possible. She wasn’t yet at the stage where Marie expected her to go out hunting unaccompanied, and Alicia was all but certain that going out hunting with Rupert was not on the agenda at all.
Still, Alicia reasoned, she had behaved so much recently that her classmates and the other teachers were starting to suspect something were wrong with her. It was about time she broke some of the rules again. She spotted the outline of Rupert, submerged within the shadows, just ahead of her and she smiled to herself and closed in on him.
“See now I was worried you’d chicken out”, Rupert grinned as he finished rolling a cigarette and tucked it behind his ear.
“I don’t chicken out”, Alicia shot back, holding his gaze. Rupert took a single step closer - almost like he was testing her defiance - and then his lips tugged into a lop-sided smirk.
“No, can’t imagine you do Miss Johns”, and then he brushed past her. Alicia stood for a moment to gather her thoughts before turning and striding after Rupert, hoping her hadn’t noticed her moment of foolishness.
“You know the old bunker just out past the river?”, Rupert asked as he zipped his coat up, “There’s some vampires set up there, the pack’s growing quicker than I’d like but Marie doesn’t think you’re ready”, Rupert sounded so casual as he threw out the statement, he couldn’t possibly have known how it sounded to Alicia. At least, that was what she told herself as the familiar hum of frustration and some other, more complex emotions that she wasn’t ready to identify made itself known in her chest.
“She worries too much”, Alicia said, “Probably why she took you in as well, soft spot for waifs and strays”. Rupert made a noise rather like a snort - partway between disbelief and amusement.
“Perhaps”, he pointed towards a path, directing their route, “I think most Watchers are just over-cautious. She’s better than most though, I’ll grant you. Rumour has it you girls call her ‘Potty’ behind her back?”, Rupert was grinning again and Alicia gladly filled him in on the details,
“It’s not just behind her back either…”.
Darrell blinked into the darkness, uncertain what had woken her. Seconds ticked by and her eyelids grew heavy, but just before she was about to turn over and try to go back to sleep she heard a noise. A giggle. She pushed herself up onto her elbows and rubbed her eyes. There was a hushed whisper - or rather an attempt at a hushed whisper that had failed quite spectacularly.
Darrell swung herself out from under her covers, folded down half-way given how prone she was to overheating in the night, and padded over to the open window. She grinned and shook her head as she spotted the second formers tip-toeing over towards the swimming pool like a line of giddy little ants. It was probably their first midnight feast, no doubt the height of their mischief so far. Darrell spotted her sister near the front of the line, arms clutched around a bag that looked like it was desperately close to spilling it’s edible contents all over the path.
Darrell turned to go back to bed when she spotted Alicia’s empty bed. Perhaps it had been Alicia getting up to go to the bathroom that had woken her and the second formers had just been a coincidence. She returned and sat on the edge of her bed, part of her wanting to share her amusement over the second formers with Alicia. Minutes ticked by and Alicia didn’t return.
Darrell wondered briefly if Alicia were outside, ready to cause trouble for the second formers as some kind of delayed revenge for all the trouble her cousin, June, had caused them the last time they had risked having a midnight feast. Darrell’s chest burned with the tell-tale sign of her temper making itself known as she remembered that unpleasant series of events and she shook the memory away. She silently got off of her bed and slipped on her shoes and took her coat from the peg, zipping it up once she had stepped out of the door.
Darrell took the back stairs down to make sure she wasn’t spotted, and was about to make her way in a circuit around Malory Towers when two figures down on the field caught her eye. Her first thought was that it was Alicia and Betty, out with some sort of trouble in mind, but the more she watched the less convinced she was. She tried her best to stick to the shadows as she moved closer, realising that the two people were slowly making their way towards the swimming pool. Wild thoughts began to race through Darrell’s mind and she chastised herself for her over-active imagination. Then the clouds overhead shifted and she was absolutely certain that the two people - these two men - were absolutely not Alicia and Betty.
Darrell was too close now to attempt to go back, they would see her in an instant and no doubt chase her down. Darrell glanced back at the door; she was quick but she didn’t know if she was quick enough. She held her breath as one of the men appeared to turn and face straight in her direction, only able to breathe again when he looked away. She lowered herself to a crouch and felt around the ground for a stone or something to throw, cursing herself for her foolishness even thinking of approaching two unknown people at night rather than seeking out a teacher.
She dismissed two stones as being too big before she located one that fit into the palm of her hand. The two figures were walking directly towards the swimming pool now, and Darrell acted. She took aim at the sports shed at the edge of the field and threw the stone as hard as she could. The thud of it connecting with the wooden structure was startling in the quiet of the night and it had the intended effect. The two people stopped and turned around, then snuck back towards the sound.
Darrell was contemplating her next step when a sound further out in the field distracted her. Her eyes readjusted and she could make out people running, maybe four or five...
The body that landed a few metres from her sent her falling backwards into the overgrown bushes and plants. Someone followed the body, moving silently to slam their fist into the other person’s chest. Darrell could only stare in horror as the body seemed to silently explode and disappear in front of her.
She couldn’t keep track of the events as a second person - perhaps one of the two men she had been watching - charged in and traded blows with the someone in front of Darrell. All the while the people running in from the field came closer and closer. The moon disappeared back behind the cloud and Darrell could only just make out the movements as they drifted further away from her.
There was a strange sound, like a strangled gasp, and another of the people vanished. Darrell was imagining things, that was the only possible explanation. She was asleep and she needed to wake herself up somehow. The sound of fighting drifted in from her left and she glanced at the new arrivals for just a moment before wondering about the second formers. She turned to push the foliage aside and peer at the entrance of the swimming pool, relieved to see the door swinging open and second formers running quite frantically back along the path up to school, their illicit treat so quickly ruined.
When she turned her attention back to the events in front of her she found quiet and so she risked getting back to her feet and edging a little closer. Three people remained standing, with no indication of where the others had gone.
“How could you have been so foolish?”, the voice was so familiar, even in it’s hushed tones, “You could have gotten all those girls killed and for what? A thrill? A moment of excitement?”
“I didn’t know they were planning anything for tonight”, that was Alicia’s voice - of that Darrell was certain - and it made her head ache to try and work out why Alicia was out here fighting with…
“It’s my fault Marie…”
“I will deal with you later, I have no doubt of your involvement in this but Alicia knows better, she isn’t a child”, and Darrell felt she could have been knocked other with a light breeze when she realised that the voice she recognised belonged to Miss Potts.
“You’re speaking to me like one”, that was Alicia again, flippant and annoyed.
“Tonight you acted like one, chasing after a moment of excitement like it was some kind of prize and endangering the very people you are charged with protecting”, Miss Potts sounded angrier than Darrell had ever heard, “You are a Slayer, and you”, she pointed at the other person that Darrell didn’t recognise, “are to be a Watcher, you should both know better. Now I think the girls have ran back inside. I shall have to come up with some kind of cover for this, and I will see you both in the morning”. With that Miss Potts strode right in front of where Darrell was stood, and then paused,
“I don’t know why you are out of bed Darrell, and right now I do not care to ask for an explanation”, Miss Potts kept her voice low and steady, “but I do know you saw far more tonight than you were ever meant to. You will accompany Alicia when she comes to see me tomorrow.” With that her teacher continued in her path back to the school and Darrell was left, feeling rather like her head was spinning, trying to piece together exactly what had happened.
“Are you alright?”, Alicia sounded quite subdued and unlike herself, and when Darrell looked at her she decided that the nasty cut across Alicia’s forehead combined with the scolding from Miss Potts likely explained most of that, “You’ve probably got a few questions…”
“I...just a few…”, Darrell stumbled over her words, “like what’s a slayer, where did those men go, why are you sneaking around at night with Miss Potts and what the hell just happened?”. Darrell’s curse must have amused Alicia because a smile tugged at the corner of her lips and she inclined her head towards the school.
“Come on, it’s a long story”.
Alicia wasn’t sure that she had heard that right and stopped in the middle of her attack, allowing Marie plenty of time to disarm her and deposit her on the floor in a completely undignified manner.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear that your susceptibility to distraction is an area we need to focus on”, Marie dusted down the front of her clothing then held out a hand to help Alicia to her feet.
“Did you say fine?”, Alicia asked, surprised as always at Marie’s strength and stumbling to keep her balance, “As in fine Darrell can come and help me read through the documents Rupert and I took from the vampire nest?”
“Considering that is the only question you have been asking for the past half an hour I fail to see how I could be saying fine to anything else”, Marie began to collect up the equipment they had used for Alicia’s training.
“I thought you were angry about Darrell finding out”, Alicia began to help tidy up.
“Oh I am”, and something in Marie’s tone caused Alicia to stop and look at her, “Her life is in much more danger now that she knows, believe me”.
“Now she knows she can keep herself safe…”
“How?”, Marie loaded the various weapons - all blunt of course, Alicia wasn’t yet trusted with blades much to her dismay - into her holdall, “She has no superhuman powers as a result of this knowledge - and given her personality she is far more likely to get dragged into trouble alongside you”.
“She wouldn’t do anything stupid…”, Alicia protested weakly.
“Darrell would most certainly do stupid things if she thought she needed to help those she cared about”, Marie zipped up the holdall and passed it to Alicia, “And she cares about you”.
“So why are you saying yes?”, Alicia slung the holdall around her shoulders and jogged to keep up with her Watcher.
“Because I know that even if I say no she will get involved anyway - far better for me to know how involved she is”. Alicia blushed, not daring to deny any of what Marie had said.
“Surely monster hunting is easier when there are more of you to help”, Alicia said after they had been walking for a minute or so, “Safety in numbers and all that?”
“Who amongst your friends would be able to aid you in fighting?”, Marie asked, and Alicia fell silent as she considered the question, “Who would you happily see enter a fight with such a disadvantage that every encounter with a vampire brings a huge risk to their life?”
“So the Slayer is always on her own?”
Marie stopped walking abruptly and turned to face Alicia; a moment of conflict crossed her face as she tried to start her sentence twice before appearing to find the words she wanted,
“I know you did not ask for this responsibility Alicia”, and there was something almost apologetic about the way she spoke, “but I will be honest with you - Slayers do not have friends, many never finish education or have a career. None have families of their own, because the risk is too great.. Being a Slayer means being alone”.
Alicia couldn’t think of a response and - though she would be loathed to admit it - even if she could think of a response, she wasn’t certain she would be able to deliver it without her voice betraying her emotions. She swallowed the lump in her throat and glanced away so Marie couldn’t see her expression.
“Well that’s cheery”
“I’m sorry to upset you Alicia”, and Marie did sound genuinely sorry which made it all so much harder.
“It’s fine - the chosen one isn’t it? Not the chosen few or the chosen one and her friends. Should have been obvious from the cryptic prophecy”, and Alicia started walking again, not wanting to continue their discussion, “Where’s Rupert anyway?”
“On an assignment for me”
“You mean you were even angrier with him than with me and you sent him away”, Alicia shot back, surprising herself with how sharp her tongue was.
“How I work with Rupert is not your concern”, Marie said, but added after a beat, “He will return tomorrow evening”. Alicia nodded. How she wished that she could have been sent out on an assignment - not necessarily with Rupert, although she wouldn’t be adverse to that either - rather than remaining at Malory Towers and pouring over ancient scrolls and texts.
“Use the old cottage if you and Darrell are going to go over the texts - I do not want any of the other girls to know what is going on”, Marie warned.
“Oh come on”, Alicia stepped in front of Darrell and stopped her in the corridor, “Sally’s only just gone to practice - she’ll be in there for at least an hour and a half.”
“Not interested Alicia”, and Darrell tried to step around her. Alicia almost regretted stepping in front of her again when she saw the telltale flush starting on Darrell’s cheeks - the first sign of her temper emerging - although she took comfort in the fact that the infamous ‘glint’ was nowhere to be seen.
“Please? Reading ancient texts gets very lonely”, Alicia said and Darrell shook her head, clearly frustrated.
“Alicia you…”, and Darrell glanced around to check they were alone, then lowered her voice anyway, “You do not understand. I just found out that monsters are real...vampires are real . I do not want to go and read vampire books with you. I am still dealing with...with everything!”. Alicia paused. It had never occurred to her that Darrell would do anything other than take the information in her stride. Since Alicia had adapted very well - almost overnight if she were being honest - she had never thought that anyone else would respond any differently.
“Monsters would be real whether you knew about them or not”, Alicia reasoned.
“Maybe I was happier not knowing”
“Then maybe you should have stayed in bed and not been so curious. You know what they say about curiosity”, Alicia said and that did earn her something close to a ‘glint’ so she decided to try a different tact, “I didn’t mean for you to find out, and I’m sorry you’re upset. I just thought it would be better if…”, and actually she didn’t have a good reason for involving Darrell apart from the fact she wanted someone to share this with. She would have preferred Betty - probably - but she wasn’t about to push Marie’s patience.
“Fine…”, and it was the second time that day Alicia had heard that response. She did rather wish that this time it were a little more enthusiastic…
“You’re making me jumpy”, Alicia said as Darrell glanced at the windows for the tenth time in the past thirty minutes.
“You’re the one with superpowers who can actually fight monsters and I’m make you jumpy”, Darrell asked.
“They couldn’t get in here, Marie has just about every ward and protection spell in existence cast on this cottage”, Alicia pulled another scroll towards her, “We’re perfectly safe. Safer than in Malory Towers I should imagine - although it’s heavily protected too”. That seemed to calm Darrell a little and they returned to their reading; Alicia’s eyes were starting to ache from the overly fancy handwriting and the laborious writing style that was clearly a staple for cryptic documents about vampires. She pushed the scroll into the pile they had designated for uninteresting documents - which was perhaps unsurprisingly the largest - and grabbed another.
“Great”, she ran one hand over her face, “This one’s not even in English”. Darrell glanced over her shoulder,
“No that’s Greek”
“You can read Greek?”, Alicia raised one eyebrow as she glanced sideways at her friend.
“You can’t?”, and there was something almost cocky about the challenge that made Alicia grin.
“This one’s all yours then”, and Alicia promptly took the book from Darrell and deposited the scroll in front of her, “Where on earth did you learn Greek?”
“My father taught us. He taught us Latin too. I suppose because they were useful to him in medicine”, Darrell leant her head on her elbow and slowly scanned down the scroll, “I don’t use them often so it might take me a while”.
“Here I thought I knew you well”, Alicia stretched her arms above her head, “What other dark little secrets have you got hidden away”. There was a strange moment where Darrell’s shoulders and back seemed to go rigid for a few seconds before she spoke,
“I wasn’t aware knowing other languages was considered a dark secret”, and she almost sounded normal, “I think it’s about time we go back - or else someone’s going to question where we’ve snuck off too”.
“You mean Sally is”
Darrell just shrugged and got to her feet. She hesitated.
“Can I take this and finish translating it?”, she placed her hand on the scroll. Alicia thought of Marie’s strict instructions to keep everything well hidden from the other girls, then looked at the little spark of curiosity in Darrell’s face,
“Sure. Just...you know...don’t go waving it around”.
“Have you seen Darrell?”, Alicia was quite startled by the direction question from Sally, especially given that the two of them generally spoke as little as possible so that they might keep the peace and avoid putting Darrell in the middle of yet another argument.
“Why? She gotten off her lead?”, this was why they didn’t speak. Alicia knew that she was just being antagonistic for the sake of it but something about Sally seemed to bring it out of her.
“I do wish you would grow up”, Sally shot back, “I really cannot understand why Darrell puts up with you”, and she abruptly turned to walk away.
“Getting worried about her sneaking off with me?”, Alicia called, and she almost managed to convince herself that she only said it to annoy Sally even more. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Sally had struck a nerve with her choice of words. Either way it had the desired effect of Sally’s back going stiff as she stopped in the middle of the corridor.
“She’s not sneaking off anywhere”, but Sally didn’t sound quite certain about that, and it was almost like they were back in third form…
“Alicia Johns. I’ve been looking for you everywhere”, and Marie seemed to appear out of nowhere, and it was peculiar to hear her speaking to Alicia like a student and not a Slayer, so much so that Alicia just stopped and stared for a moment. Marie stepped past Sally was a smile and a hello.
“A word, Alicia?”, and Marie clearly expected her to follow so Alicia did, feeling her cheeks flush at being pulled up like this in front of a classmate. Once they were halfway to Marie’s office and Sally was long out of earshot Marie spoke.
“I do hope you weren’t saying anything that might prompt Sally into finding out about your extra-curricular activities - I rather hoped you had learnt your lesson”, Marie glanced at her out of the corner of her eye and Alicia offered a sheepish smile, “Now that you are both Fifth Formers, don’t you think it’s about time the two of you at least tried to behave like adults when you’re in the same room”.
“Where are we going?”, Alicia asked, because she was certainly not inclined to discuss her thoughts concerning Sally Hope with Marie of all people.
“Rupert has returned, I felt it best you be part of the meeting”, Marie replied, and she pushed open the door to her office, “Oh…”. Alicia stepped in quickly alongside Marie and found Darrell waiting - looking rather uncertain - in the room.
“She hasn’t said a word to me since she arrived, although I did convince her to wait for you”, Rupert commented, “Rather think she’s scared I might bite”. He smiled that self-assured grin of his and then glanced at Alicia who couldn’t help but grin back.
“Thank you Rupert”, Marie turned to Darrell, “What’s wrong Darrell?”. Alicia was quite surprised to see Darrell’s gaze drop away once Marie looked at her,
“I translated your scroll but it doesn’t make much sense”, Darrell held out the scroll to Alicia, who quickly took it whilst trying to ignore the fact that Marie’s eyes were practically burning a hole in the back of her head. Well, what was another lecture after all?
“How so?”, Alicia asked, scanning over the translation in Darrell’s neat cursive.
“It’s worse than the French poems - all this abstract imagery”, Darrell folded her arms across her chest, “At first I thought it was a really poorly written description for laying water pipes because it kept talking about a conduit…”
“Conduit?”, Rupert perked up and his question seemed to make Darrell jump, “In what context?”
“It…”, Darrell glanced between Alicia and Marie then returned her attention to Rupert, “About a conduit that will bring about new life in place of the old life”. Rupert had begun rummaging in his satchel,
“I came across the same…”, Rupert dug out a book, covered in dust and cobwebs and put in on Marie’s desk and began to flick through it, “Here - the monks wrote about it…”
“Monks?”, Alicia stepped closer to peer at the book, pulling a face when she realised it was in Greek as well.
“In this line of work there’s always monks”, Rupert replied, “Busy little fellows, always getting up to no good. Anyway, they wrote about the arrival of the conduit and how it began to bring forth the new life by wiping out the old, leaving carnage across the South of Greece before the monks were able to trap it. Later on…”, and Rupert flipped through to a later page, “One monks writes about his fears that one day the conduit will ‘burst forth ’ once more - big into the water imagery apparently”.
“So they thought it would come back?”, Marie asked, holding her hand out for the book.
“Am I the only person who doesn’t read Greek?”, Alicia asked. She was promptly ignored by Marie and Rupert who were still pouring over the book, but she noticed a tug of a smile on Darrell’s lips.
“You think the vampires are trying to bring back this conduit”, Rupert sounded more animated than Alicia had ever heard, his whole face practically came alive as he spoke.
“I think there’s a good chance, yes”.
“Can I ask a question?”, Darrell’s voice broke their discussion and then she seemed to shrink as three sets of eyes turned on her before she found her voice, “What exactly is this conduit meant to be?”
Marie glanced at Rupert who shook his head, then she lowered her eyes to scan over the pages for a few seconds. With a sigh she slowly placed the book on top of the table,
“That...is a very good question”.
“Use the sledgehammer”, Marie sounded almost concerned - or perhaps Alicia had imagined it - as the skeleton got up again and continued its slow pursuit. A single skeleton alone would have been of little concern, the problem was that behind that skeleton were a further three or four that Alicia hadn’t even laid a hand on yet.
She ducked underneath the swipe of one of the broadswords that all of the skeletons appeared to be carrying and swept the legs of the closest skeleton out from under it, grateful to hear the sound of bones clattering together. She heaved up the sledgehammer from where it had fall near a tombstone, swung in a downward arc and winced as bones shattered beneath it.
“The skull Alicia”, and she rolled her eyes, she was absolutely about to do that. She crushed the skull of the first skeleton and swung the hammer into the temple of the second approaching skeleton. The skull shattered upon contact into hundreds of pieces. Alicia staggered to keep control of the sledgehammer, her arm muscles almost screaming with the exertion as she forced herself to wield the hammer again and again until all that was left of her former foes were piles of shattered bone and dust. She let the hammer fall to the floor and leant against a nearby tombstone to catch her breath.
“It’s not entirely respectful to be leaning on a grave marker”, Marie commented and Alicia made a very pointed glance between her Watcher and the empty hole in front of the gravestone.
“Well if…”, and she leant forward to read the gravestone, “Sir Walter Bannersworth had been decent enough to stay dead and not try to kill me then I would be in a much more respectful mood.” Marie simply raised an eyebrow, although the twitch at the corner of her lips betrayed her amusement.
“I’ve gotten used to the fresh ones getting back up to kill me, but at this rate I’ll have killed everyone in this graveyard for the second time in their lives”, Alicia commented, “I wasn’t warned about skeletons”.
“You mean they didn’t mention it in your Slayer Weekly?”, and Marie began to walk back towards Malory Towers, leaving Alicia to roll her eyes and run after her.
“Skeletons?”, and Darrell looked quite confused, although that was a common expression for her these days during conversation with Alicia, “How do they stay together?”
“I don’t know, magic?”, Alicia leant back against the tree, “Did you miss the part about them trying to kill me?”
“Doesn't everything try to kill you? You’re the Slayer”, Darrell replied.
“Look at you being so unaffected by my near death experience”, Alicia smirked, “I’ll remember this”.
“Is it strange that skeletons are rising?”, Darrell asked, wrapping her arms around her knees, “Is it any stranger than vampires?” Alicia paused and considered Darrell’s question. After all, Alicia might be acting like she was old-hand at this Slayer business but she had only been “called” for little over a month or so. She didn’t really have a measure for “stranger than usual” yet.
“I don’t know - Marie looks worried...”, Alicia tapped her heels gently against the ground, “I don’t think it’s common”.
“Do they bite like vampires?”
“No - they carry giant swords and try to cut you up. Although that might be an individual preference rather than a general skeleton rule”, Alicia laughed at the look Darrell gave her, and felt a flash of hurt as her friend stood up, “I take it my time is up then”
“You want me to behave as normally as possible”, Darrell said, “You’re quite welcome to come with me and play tennis but…”, Alicia waved Darrell’s offer away.
“Come hunting with me tonight?”, Alicia asked.
“What would I do? Hold your spare stakes and try not to get eaten or cut in half?”, Darrell asked.
“Something like that, I’ll wake you just after midnight?”, Alicia jumped up to her feet in a single movement.
“Do I get a say in this?”, Darrell asked.
“Like you’re not curious”, Alicia called over her shoulder as she walked away, “Don’t wear yourself out too much playing tennis, you’ll need your strength”.
Alicia set out to find Betty, conscious that she hadn’t been spending much time with her of late and feeling quite guilty about it. A poke of her head into the West Tower fifth form common room was fruitless and she found herself wandering the gardens quite aimlessly, wondering where Betty might have gone. Eventually she heard a giggle and altered her route, where she found Betty, Winnie, and another girl whose name she couldn’t remember crowded around something whispering. They heard her approach and quickly tried to hide the something, only relaxing when they realised who it was.
“See you later Betty”, and Winnie and the other girl disappeared before Alicia could say a word. The silence that was left between her and Betty was curiously uncomfortable.
“I’ve been looking for you everywhere”, Alicia said eventually.
“Well I thought you were off with Darrell again”, Betty said, and if Alicia wasn’t mistaken (and she usually wasn’t) there was a sharp edge to Betty’s words that meant Alicia should choose her own carefully, “You usually go off with her whenever Sally’s busy these days”.
“Just had something I needed her help with”, Alicia said.
“Awful lot of something I should say”, Betty shrugged, “At first I thought it was part of some plan of yours to wind up Darrell or Sally, wondered why you weren’t letting me in on it”.
“No, I get that now”, Betty shrugged, “So I decided if you’re off with her then there’s no harm in me spending time with other people”.
“Are you jealous ?”, Alicia could hardly believe her ears, was it actually Betty behaving like this? With the same kind of cold jealousy that they had teased Sally Hope for so many times over the years. Alicia half expected a grin to break out over Betty’s face at any moment, with a “Gotcha” that would reveal it all a joke at Alicia’s expense.
Except there was no smile in sight.
“Fed up”, Betty brushed aside the accusation, but the blush gave her away, “I kept looking for you and you were always off with her, so why should I hang around waiting for when you decide you’ve got time for me?”
“But...I…”, Alicia couldn’t seem to get her mouth or brain to work in tandem with one another and everything she desperately wanted to say got lost.
“Anyway, I was busy before you interrupted me so I’ll see you later”, and Betty - her best friend - actually turned her back on her and walked away, leaving Alicia standing like a complete fool in the corner of the gardens. Her chest was tight and her throat felt like it had a lump in it as feelings Alicia wasn’t accustomed to built up inside her…
She started to pace, telling herself over and over that she wasn’t going to cry. Crying was for silly little babies, and Alicia was certainly not a baby. But the feeling kept coming back up, threatening to overwhelm her until another - more powerful emotion - took over.
Alicia didn’t remember losing her temper - but since she was staring at the remains of what had once been a picnic table it was quite obvious she had - and she didn’t feel any better for it. She wondered if this was the kind of thing that Darrell had spent years trying to fight against, and she felt a burst of empathy for her friend. Of course Darrell hadn’t ever been left with a pile of wood and metal that desperately needed hiding away…
“You’re not telling Alicia?”, Rupert asked as Marie packed a few necessities - stakes, holy water, daggers and the like - into her satchel.
“No - and neither are you”, Marie replied, “I shouldn’t be more than forty-eight hours. She would only want to come with me”.
“It might not be a bad idea if she did”, Rupert sat on Marie’s desk, ignoring the look she gave him as she did. After a moment she seemed to decide that there were far more important matters at hand and instead pushed the ashtray towards him.
“Cheers”, Rupert said as he lit up his cigarette, “Your colleagues will think you’ve taken up the habit”
“Thanks to your lack of subtlety, my colleagues are well aware that it’s your cigarette smoke they can smell in this office”, Marie zipped up her satchel.
“Oh aye, rumours are there?”, Rupert grinned and winked at Marie, chuckling when she shook her head in despair, “So why are you leaving Alicia here then?”
“How do you think real life works Rupert?”, Marie asked, “What possible reason would I be able to come up with for why I am taking a student off of school grounds for the weekend?”
“Alright, alright”, Rupert held up his hands in defeat, “I’ll keep an eye on her then I suppose - keep her out of trouble”.
“That has certainly not worked out so far has it?”, Marie said as she did one last glance around the room. Then her expression softened and she looked back at Rupert,
“I’m trusting you Rupert. Not just with her - with all of them”, and there was a solemnity to her voice that was almost alarming.
“I know I’ve been a bit of a useless sod recently but I’m not going to let anything happen to them”, Rupert said, and was relieved to see something almost like a smile on Marie’s face.
“I’ll see you by Sunday then”, Marie said.
“You seem upset”, Darrell said from where she was sat on top of the wall that ran around the graveyard. Alicia had just finished pummeling a newly risen vampire into unconsciousness and then finally staking him out of his misery.
“How insightful”, Alicia said, leaning against the wall beside Darrell and catching her breath, “Anymore great observations for me?”
“You’re very grumpy when you’re in a bad mood”, Darrell said, “Like a toddler. I remember Felicity used to pull that exact same face when she was little”.
“Beginning to wish I’d left you at Malory Towers”, Alicia shoved her hands into the pockets of her coat.
“Where did Miss Potts go earlier?”, Darrell asked in the least subtle change of subject imaginable.
“You can call her Marie you know”, Alicia must have said that four or five times since Darrell had found out about the slaying, “I don’t know - what are you talking about?”
“She left school in her car earlier, it wasn’t parked outside when we left either so she’s gone somewhere”, Darrell said, “That grave’s moving by the way”, and she pointed to their left. Alicia squinted at the headstone.
“It’s an old one”, she groaned, “Another skeleton”
Darrell dutifully handed her the hammer and Alicia took off towards the grave, getting to the graveside just as the skeleton broke through the soil. It didn’t even make it out of the grave before she crushed it’s skull into a thousand pieces.
“Behind you”, Darrell called and Alicia turned just in time to avoid a second skeleton relieving her of her head.
“Bit more warning next time”, Alicia shouted back as she vaulted over one of the gravestones to give herself a bit of space to think.
“There’s more”, and Darrell sounded worried now. Alicia looked up and watched as another two skeletons dragged themselves out of graves. Alicia was suddenly horribly aware of just how stupid it was to bring Darrell along; Marie was right, Darrell couldn’t defend herself against the undead.
“Darrell?”, and Alicia did a double take as she realised that Darrell had moved from her position on the wall.
“I’m fine”, but she couldn’t work out where the voice came from and neither did she have time to locate it as one of the skeletons lumbered within range of her. She kicked out it’s lower legs - quite literally - and used it as a step, leaping over the heads of the two that were staggering in behind him. Before they had a chance to turn around, she had smashed in one of their skulls.
The sound of bone smashing behind her made her jump, although she relaxed when she realised it was Rupert with his own weapon - a cricket bat.
“You don’t make it bloody easy to keep an eye on you”, Rupert muttered as he stepped past her and took off the next skeleton’s head with a single blow, sending it rattling across the graveyard until it came to a rest next to the wall. Alicia ducked around him and delivered an upper cut with the hammer to the jaw of another skeleton, teeth clattered and smashed as the head popped off.
“Give you practice - not much good at the watching side of your job are you?”, Alicia asked, slamming the hammer into the sternum of yet another skeleton and knocking it off balance so she could bring the hammer down on it’s temple.
“I’m more of a man of action”, Rupert replied, splitting the skull of the last skeleton in two and turning to face her, “Where’s your friend - I know you both snuck out”.
“Here”, and Alicia looked around as Darrell carefully jumped out of one of the trees dotted around the graveyard, Alicia had to commend her for her quick thinking - skeletons probably couldn’t climb trees. The skull that Rupert had knocked off earlier began snapping as it noticed Darrell, and Darrell jumped away from it. Alicia grinned at the look on her face - somewhere between disgust and disbelief and then laugh out loud as Darrell carefully approached it and stamped on it, shattering the skull beneath her walking boot.
“I think I want to go back to school”, Darrell said.
“I think that’s the best place for both of you”, Rupert agreed, “and this time stay put would you?”
“Where’s Marie gone?”, Alicia asked as they started walking back towards Malory Towers.
“Business with the Watcher’s Council”, Rupert said, “She’ll explain when she gets back”.
“You in charge then?”, Alicia grinned.
“Damn right”, Rupert said, “So the two of you can get your backsides back to school and into bed whilst I come back out and clear away the bones - last thing we need is an investigation into who’s been smashing up the graveyard”.
They walked back to school in silence and just as they arrived outside, Rupert took hold of Alicia’s arm,
“Give us a moment yeah kid?”, he called to Darrell, who didn’t look altogether pleased at being called ‘kid’ but went inside nonetheless.
“You don’t take her out like that again you hear?”, Rupert said, pointing at the door Darrell had just gone through, “Not unless you want to get her killed”.
“Alright…”, Alicia shook off his hand.
“No - I’m serious this time”, and he did look rather solemn so Alicia stopped protesting, “You don’t want the death of anyone on your conscience - never mind someone you care about. I know it’s exciting to show off but I’m telling you it’s not bloody worth it alright?”
“Okay, it won’t happen again”, there was something in Rupert’s voice, something in his eyes, that told Alicia this was not up for debate.
“Good - now get to bed”, Rupert said.
“You going to come and check on us? Make sure we’re all tucked in?”, Alicia asked, prompting a snort from Rupert.
“I’ll bloody well lock the two of you in if I have to, now go”, and Rupert turned around and started walking back towards the graveyard.
“Did you get answers?”, Alicia grinned as she managed to make Marie jump by appearing beside her as the teacher walked through one of the fields near Malory Towers, “I see you’re not always on guard”.
“It’s the middle of the day, I am on guard as I need to be”, Marie replied and then after a pause continued, “Nonetheless that was well done - it’s not often anyone sneaks up on me”.
“Thanks”, and Alicia grinned despite herself, “So come on then, what did you find out?”
“I found out that you took Darrell out on patrol with you”, Marie continued with her walk and Alicia fell into step alongside her.
“Rupert’s already given me the lecture”, Alicia muttered, “Don’t know why he had to go and tell you”
“He didn’t”, Marie took their walk further away from the view from Malory Towers.
“Darrell?”, Alicia screwed up her face, not imagining that her friend would have revealed anything.
“Not intentionally”, Marie had a slight smile at the corner of her lips, “Unfortunately Miss Rivers is quite easy to read, and far too forthright to keep all of her emotions off of her face.”
“Are you angry?”, and Alicia was surprised to find that she was anxious to know the answer.
“You are both alright, although it could have ended quite badly. I would think you both realise now why her accompanying you is not a good idea?”, Marie stopped beneath a cluster of trees and faced out over the ocean.
“Yes”, Alicia scuffed at the ground with the toe of her shoe, “When all the skeletons rose at once I…”, she glanced out at then ocean and shrugged, “She can't defend herself and I can't keep her safe. It's better for me to be alone”.
“Is there something you need to talk about Alicia?”, Marie asked. Alicia thought -for all of about a second- about answering truthfully but eventually just shrugged,
“You know there is, or you wouldn't ask”, she said, “I just don't want to. So how was the Council?”
“Less illuminating than I had hoped”, Marie said, “I did visit a cemetery that had more answers for me - shame that the dead often offer more assistance than the Council”.
“I think I’m beginning to see why you took Rupert in”, Alicia grinned, “I see that streak of defiance”.
Marie gave her a quick glance but didn’t dispute the statement, “I found another entry concerning the Conduit”. Alicia forgot the teasing of her mentor in an instance,
“Do you know what it is?”, and she eagerly took the parchment that Marie took out of her pocket, relieved to find it in a language she could read this time - French.
“The Conduit didn’t just affect Greece?”, she asked.
“It did the second time it rose - this is the first time the Conduit was summoned”, Marie explained, “To say that the second summoning in Greece was more devastating would be an understatement”.
“Five hundred people died…”, Alicia said as she read down the page, “More died in Greece?”
“Many more…”, Marie accepted the parchment from Alicia, “I fear that the next time may see even more deaths. The skeletons were not a coincidence. They were called from their graves so that someone could search them”.
“Something was taken - something to do with this Conduit?”
Marie sat down in her chair with a sigh. She would be expected to put in an appearance at least in the teacher’s common room later that evening - with a convincing explanation for where she had been that did not involve cemeteries - but for now she was grateful for the opportunity to rest.
Alicia - as she perhaps should have expected - had practically drilled her for every last piece of information about the Conduit, and had seemed quite unsatisfied with the limitations of Marie’s knowledge. Marie smiled to herself; it had at least prompted Alicia to return to the books from the vampire nest to look for more information herself.
“Come in Rupert”, she called as she heard the floorboards outside her office creak. The door opened a moment after.
“Showing off are we?”, Rupert asked, “I take it Alicia was quite energised by your findings - I saw her rush off down to the cottage”.
“She seems to be throwing herself into the Slaying with perhaps a bit too much vigour”, Marie said, “but you aren’t here to discuss Alicia are you?”. Rupert smiled, and was it Marie’s imagination or was it almost ruefully.
“Your visit to the Watcher’s Council got me thinking - along with an encounter whilst you were away”, Rupert took a seat in what was usually Mademoiselle Dupont’s chair and leant back.
“No need to be subtle - although your discretion is admirable - I have already established that Alicia had Darrell accompany her on a patrol”, Marie shook her head to herself, “I am quite aware of the sorts of trouble those two are capable of getting up to when together. I suppose it must have been quite sobering for you? To see Alicia put a friend in such danger?”
“You could say that”, Rupert looked away from her with a frown, “I found it unsettling to be on the other side of that conversation - to be the responsible adult. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about it actually”.
Marie waited patiently, giving Rupert the space he needed to find his words. Seconds ticked into a minute and the young man seemed almost conflicted as he stared out of the window. When he finally spoke his voice was soft,
“I don’t think I should be a Watcher, Marie”
Marie found herself both surprised to hear the words come from Rupert’s mouth, and equally surprised that he hadn’t spoken them sooner. She fought the instinct to respond immediately, experience telling her that he had more to say that would be lost should she jump in too quickly. Sure enough Rupert continued,
“I had forgotten about them all until your visit”, Rupert finally looked back at Marie, “Managed to keep their smug faces out of my head. I joke about and tell you that you’re the only decent Watcher I’ve ever met, but for me it’s not a joke. How can I ever be a Watcher when they stand for so much that I despise?”
“I could give you an answer”, Marie kept her tone soft, “I could list off your good qualities - though I think you would just wave them off - or I could talk about how the sort of man you will become is exactly what the Watcher’s Council needs, but I don’t think that would help would it?”
“Not really no”, Rupert got to his feet and shoved his hands into his pockets, “Why do you do it? Stay a Watcher? I know it’s supposed to be a calling and everything just like the Slayer but let’s be honest - either of us could walk away at any moment”.
“A few months ago I would have said I didn’t know”, Marie hesitated before deciding to be a little more honest, “I considered retiring. Then Alicia was called and I decided that I couldn’t trust any of the Watcher’s at the Council to mentor her. She’s...a difficult personality at times”.
“Then they lumped you with me as well”, Rupert almost managed a grin, “Bet you really do wish you’d retired”, then he sighed and shook his head, “Thanks for the talk but it’s getting dark and I feel like I need to do some Slaying”.
Marie wasn’t sure that she had been of any help at all.
“Everything okay?”, Darrell realised that Sally had stopped and was patting down her pockets.
“I don’t think I picked my necklace back up after you untangled it when we sat down - it must still be on the log”, Sally frowned, “I’ll run back and get it”. Darrell glanced at the horizon through the trees. The Autumnal evenings were growing darker ever earlier, and Darrell had no desire to be outside after the sunset. She had even less of a desire to let Sally walk around alone as it got dark.
“I’ll come with you”, she said immediately.
“Don’t be daft, it’s just a few minutes if I run”, and Sally had turned back and started to make her way quickly through the trees. Darrell clicked her tongue in frustration and scrambled back up the bank to follow her. Of course Sally would think she was being over-protective but Darrell could live with that.
She moved quickly through the trees, reminding herself to breathe in and out slowly so that it didn’t feel like her heart was about to burst out of her chest. Sally was quicker than Darrell had given her credit for. When she heard a cry up ahead she broke into a sprint.
“Sally?”, she slowed to a jog as she ran into the clearing and allowed herself a sigh of relief when she saw Sally at the centre, “Is everything alright? Are you bleeding?”. Darrell closed in the gap between them to get a better look at Sally’s wrist.
“It’s fine - my own fault”, Sally said immediately, and she tugged her sleeve down to cover the cuts, “I...think I caught myself on some of the brambles or something”, and she waved vaguely at the bramble bush nearby.
“Let me look”, Darrell insisted, holding out her hands and after a moment of hesitation Sally complied. Darrell turned Sally’s arm over to look at the cuts and frowned.
“This looks awfully deep for bramble bush cuts”, Darrell said, and she squinted at the peculiar pattern of wounds.
“I tripped coming over the ridge”, Sally replied, pulling her arm back, “Put one hand right in the thorns. Look can we get back to school so I can wash up before dinner?”. Darrell was quite taken aback by Sally’s tone and gave her friend a glance over. Sally’s cheeks were a little red and flushed, and Darrell realised that her over-reaction to a simple trip and fall was probably embarrassing her.
“Sorry, Did you get your necklace?”, she asked and Sally dug one hand into her pocket and pulled it out to show Darrell, “Alright - come on then”. The walk back to school was quiet, not peppered with their usually easy conversation. As they closed in on school, Darrell noticed Alicia walking in from across the fields - probably returning from the cottage. Sally, of course, noticed her attention shift and a strange something crossed over her face when she saw who Darrell was looking at.
Darrell was quite sure that Sally didn’t realise that Darrell was watching her out of the corner of her eye - otherwise she surely wouldn’t have practically tracked every one of Alicia’s movement across the field as they walked.
“Sally?”, Darrell asked eventually, feeling a little unsettled.
“Hmm?”, Sally finally looked away and turned to look at Darrell. Darrell stopped walking and stared at Sally’s eyes. Darrell blinked heavily and looked again - whatever she thought she saw was gone, Sally’s eyes were the same dark blue they always were, she must have seen a reflection of the sunset.
“Is everything okay?”, Sally was the one to ask this time and Darrell shook herself.
“Fine - must just be tired or something”, Darrell started walking again. Alicia had reached the school before them so Darrell was spared any awkwardness between the three of them. Sally dashed off to the dorms to wash up and change her shirt before dinner; Darrell waited at one of the bay windows in the corridor, one overlooking the woods.
It was strange how so recently she would have felt quite comfortable sat gazing out at the countryside, charmed almost by the beauty that surrounded the boarding school. With the added knowledge of the monsters that crawled out at night, it became much less enchanting. Darrell couldn’t see the graveyard from the school which was probably for the best. The sun was low now, and not being able to see what was outside made Darrel a little uneasy.
A slow tingle crept up her spine and she just knew something was watching her. She tried to remember what Alicia had said about all the spells and wards around the school - practically impenetrable was how Alicia had made it sound with how often she talked about it. So where then was she being watched from? No - not watched - hunted. She felt like at any moment she was about to become something’s prey...
She wasn’t too proud to admit that she actually squeaked when she turned around and found Sally behind her. Sally seemed to study her for a moment,
“Are you sure you’re okay?”, she asked, looking past Darrell and out of the window.
“Never better”, Darrell said, hoping that she didn’t look even half as terrified as she felt. She was very grateful when the bell sounded for dinner.
Alicia could barely drag herself out of bed. Patrol with Rupert had been -for lack of a more accurate word - interesting. They had spoken little, despite Alicia efforts, and Rupert was clearly bothered by something as he kept pushing for them to patrol for longer and longer. He had suggested they patrol up in the woods, telling Alicia how he had seen something out there that he wanted to investigate, but by that point it was nearly three o’clock in the morning and Alicia had been forced to say something. Clearly she hadn’t stopped their patrol soon enough if she felt like this. She let her forehead drop against the cool of the pillow and then pushed herself onto her knees to get up.
“Old age catching up to you?”, Irene grinned as she made her bed. It had only taken until the fifth form for her to finally make a bed well enough that the form wouldn't get at least a handful of marks over each term.
“Something like that”, Alicia got up to have a quick wash - cold water would do the trick. The door opened before she could push it and she nearly collided with Sally. Alicia was quite used to being on the receiving end of some withering looks from Sally, but this look was downright hostile.
She held Sally's gaze and after a moment, Sally walked past her. Alicia stepped into the bathrooms and raised one eyebrow at Darrell who was leaning with her back against the sink.
“You two quarreling again?”, Alicia took the sink next to Darrell.
“No, it's fine”
“You are a spectacularly awful liar Darrell Rivers”, Alicia doused her face in cold water and shuddered.
“I know”, but Darrell didn't offer anymore details and Alicia was not inclined to push for them. So she let Darrell wash her face and brush her teeth in peace and she did the same as other girls from the form trudged in to complete their morning routines.
Walking to breakfast was a peculiar ordeal these days. Normally Alicia would have snuck away from her form to talk to Betty, but they hadn’t spoken since that day in the gardens. The others in the form had noticed - there was no way they couldn’t after all - but Alicia was quite relieved that they were decent enough not to mention anything.
Alicia still wasn’t sure she wouldn’t get upset if someone asked questions.
Alicia didn’t have much of an appetite so settled on toast and watching the rest of her form. She hadn’t expected to feel so separated from her form so quickly - even though Marie had warned her that she would start to feel like she was no longer the same as them. Perhaps that was why she had been spending so much time with Darrell, she knew who Alicia was now and that helped bridge the divide. Would it have been better if it had been Betty that had found out the truth? Alicia dropped her toast onto her plate and waited for the bell for class.
If breakfast was awkward then classes were even more so since Betty still sat next to Alicia for all of them. Alicia had thought - only about a hundred times or so - about ways she might start up a conversation with Betty, explain herself somehow without talking about monsters.
She had even considered telling Betty the truth but somewhere between realising that Marie would be furious, that Betty would probably think her insane, and knowing that adding another person to her list of people to look after, she decided that it wasn’t a good idea.
So they sat in silence.
It was rather undignified for a teacher to be pulled into a room by someone who was meant to be pretending to be the groundskeeper, and if Rupert hadn’t looked quite so stricken then Marie might have said as much.
“I have class in five minutes Rupert, so quickly”
“Someone died last night…”, Rupert said, “Someone from the town”. Marie took a deep breath and settled herself,
“No”, Rupert shoved his hands into his pockets, “Poor git was torn up pretty badly, definitely not vampire. I’m heading out to see if I can find anything that the police miss.”
“Let me know what you find”, Marie hesitated, “and Rupert? Let me tell Alicia - later”.
Marie’s head was filled with lore and the supernatural as she made her way to teach the first formers - rowdy as always on a Monday morning - and she had to put considerable effort into stopping her mind from wandering.
The lessons went according to plan, although she did at one point catch herself staring out the window for a moment longer than she had meant to when she thought she saw movement. She had then almost laughed at herself when a bird flew from the bushes outside the window.
When they broke for lunch Marie went to look for Rupert, and upon finding that he had not yet returned considered finding Alicia. She stopped herself. It would start to become increasingly obvious that she were spending too much time with one student if she continued like this, and given her frequent chastisement of both Rupert and Alicia for their lack of discretion it would not do for her to behave so carelessly.
So instead she found Mademoiselle Dupont in the gardens and walked in the cool autumn mid-day with her,
“How were the third formers this morning?”, she asked.
“Ah! They were - comment dit-on - they had lights on but were not home”, Mademoiselle almost seemed to ruffle like an angry bird as she spoke, and Marie shook her head as she smiled.
“Perhaps the fifth will be better for you”, Marie said.
“The fifth? Now they have been good girls this term. Yes, even Alicia!”, and Mademoiselle immediately went from irritated to proud, “They have listened so well! Alicia and Betty, they cause no trouble anymore”. Marie raised one eyebrow as she listened to Mademoiselle regaling her with tales of how good they all were for her.
“They don’t even talk!”, Mademoiselle finished with a flourish, “So focused are they on their French”.
“Betty and Alicia don’t talk at all?”, and Marie wished - not for the first time that term - that she had at least one class teaching the fifth formers.
“No - this is what I have been saying, they are all very good this term”, and the bell for the next session rang so Mademoiselle scurried off to her class.
The rest of the day passed without incident - although the second formers were clearly planning something with how giggly they were - and Marie felt a little guilty about being relieved to hear the final bell. As she was tidying her desk, the door to her classroom was thrown open and Rupert came in, face flushed,
“I know what killed that man”
Darrell gently massaged her forearm and winced at the pain. She could practically hear her father’s voice in the back of her head giving her instructions, ‘Don’t massage it if it hurts’, ‘Put something cold on it’. She knew Matron kept ice in the San but she could hardly go down and ask for some.
Not knowing what else to do she snuck away to the bathrooms and ran the cold tap. She rubbed away the beginnings of tears with the palm of her hand and then rolled up her sleeve. It was bruising already - a deep red - and Darrell could make out the individual finger marks. The tears returned and she put her arm under the cold tap.
It didn’t make any sense. Sally had never hurt her. Not physically anyway; she was prone to some sharp comments when one of her cold, jealous moods took ahold but she had never hurt Darrell like this before. And all Darrell had done was check the wound on Sally's arm.
Then lost her composure when she saw the completely unmarked skin that had just the previous day had deep gouges in it. Sally had torn her arm away from Darrell with this look - and Darrell sworn her eyes went dark as she did - and turned to walk away. Darrell had tried to stop her and that’s when Sally had grabbed her arm.
Darrell didn’t know how Sally managed to squeeze so hard. It had felt - for just a moment - like she might break Darrell’s arm. Then it was like something changed instantly; Sally’s whole face transformed and her eyes were back to normal. Her grips loosened and it was like she suddenly realised what she had done.
Before Darrell could say anything she was gone.
The water wasn’t helping.
It wasn’t normal - none of it was. Darrell had first wondered whether she was seeing things that weren’t there, turning shadows into monsters and demonising human traits, whether her mind was taking what she had learnt and applying it to all she saw.
Except she knew Sally - better than anyone in fact - and she knew that this wasn’t normal. That this wasn’t her friend. She turned off the tap and set off to find Miss Potts. She would know what to do.
“Is every monster I’ve ever read about real?”, Alicia ran her hands through her hair as she paced the small office, “Vampires, Skeletons...now werewolves?”
“Many of the myths and legends do have a basis in reality”, Rupert was perched on the window sill, he hadn’t lit up his cigarette yet - preferring to twirl it around in his fingers. He seemed agitated. It made Alicia wonder what he had seen.
“But werewolves are still people right?”, Alicia finally stopped walking back and forth and instead perched on Mademoiselle Dupont’s desk, ignoring the pointed raised eyebrow from Marie, “They’re only werewolves during the full moon?”
“Correct”, and from the slight wince on Marie’s face, she must have realised how teacherly she sounded, “You become a Werewolf if you’re bitten by another Werewolf - then, whenever there is a full moon, you will transform. Most people have no knowledge of what they’ve been doing when they wake up the next morning”.
“So they could kill someone and have no idea?”, Alicia drummed her fingers against the edge of the desk as she thought.
“Yes - some can go a number of months before they even realise something has changed”, Marie began to dig through her holdall as she spoke, “The human mind is very good at rationalising seemingly impossible things”.
“Do we kill them?”, Alicia hadn’t expected that sentence to be as difficult to say as it was. The looks between Marie and Rupert was conflicted.
“It’s a grey area”, Rupert said eventually, lighting up his cigarette and pushing the window open a little, “Comes down to individuals - both the hunters and the werewolves. There’s no hard and fast rule”.
“What’s the Council’s rule on it?”, and both Marie and Rupert went stiff and their faces betrayed their thoughts, “I’ll take it the Council vote for killing then”.
“The Council see numbers and monsters; they don’t see people”, Marie sounded more scathing than Alicia had ever heard and she wondered what personal event - and there had to be one - had prompted such a response.
They were interrupted by a knock on the door.
“Who is it?”, Marie began to look around for somewhere to throw her holdall, and then glanced between Alicia and Rupert - almost as if she were wondering where exactly she might hide them.
“It’s Darrell”, and Alicia got up to open the door. Darrell wouldn’t look at her, but Alicia didn’t need her to to know that she had been crying. Despite her natural instinct to quiz Darrell on the spot, she stepped aside and let her friend in.
Marie looked almost startled when she realised how upset Darrell was, and Alicia couldn’t blame her. Darrell didn’t cry. Or at least, Alicia hadn’t seen her cry since first form. Darrell was explosive meltdowns that left you stunned and in shock until she calmed down and apologised - truly meaning it every time - not tears and despair that made you feel like wrapping her up and protecting her. Alicia shook her head and decided to barrel in to be the one to ask,
“Something’s wrong with Sally…”, and as Darrell stumbled over her explanation, returning to clarify things when Rupert or Marie asked, and when she reluctantly pulled up her sleeve to show the awful bruising made by fingers, thumb and palm on her forearm Alicia couldn’t help the cold chill that seemed to run down her spine. She spotted the glances between Rupert and Marie and knew that their minds were going to exactly the same place as hers because as much as Alicia disliked Sally she knew that she would never lay her hands on Darrell like that.
Darrell finished talking and just kind of stood, uncertain of what to do next. Rupert cleared his throat gently and asked,
“The scratches, the ones you said looked strange”, he glanced at Marie before asking, “Could they have been a bite?”
It was amongst Marie’s worst nightmares - possibly her very worst nightmare - for something terrible to happen to one of the girls at Malory Towers. For so many years she had kept them safe, and now…
Her eyes flickered to Darrell, and she felt overwhelmed with empathy for the poor girl. Darrell looked like she was still struggling to take in what Rupert and Alicia had said. Who could blame her?
“I don’t…”, and Darrell clenched and unclenched her hands, a calming strategy Marie had seen her employ on more than one occasion in recent years, “She doesn’t...she can’t…”
Alicia and Rupert had finished gathering up the equipment they needed, Marie nodded and turned her attention back to Darrell,
“I can’t imagine how difficult this is - I will explain more when we return but we have to go out and stop her before she hurts anyone”, and Marie left the ‘else’ unspoken at the end, deciding that Darrell didn’t also need to contend with the knowledge of what Sally might have been responsible for.
“I should have gone back with her - I should have been quicker”, and Darrell turned her anger and frustration on herself.
“Then you both might have been bitten”, Marie said simply, “Now I suggest you go to your dorm, we will bring her back. If anyone asks about Alicia or Sally then just say they’ve gone to the San”. She saw Alicia pull a face out of the corner of her eye but didn’t comment on it, after all there were very few excuses available for why a student was conspicuously absent from the dorms.
Darrell begrudgingly left to return to the dorms and Marie hurried the others down the stairs, uncertain how she would explain their late-night departure from the school if anyone were to see them.
“Do we split up or stay together?”, Rupert asked as they stepped out into the darkness of the night.
“Together”, Marie’s answer was immediate, “werewolves are unpredictable, especially newly turned ones”, she knelt down and sought out some indication of which tracks might belong to Sally then stood and indicated for the others to follow, “and we might be looking for more than one…”
“The one that turned her is probably still around as well”, Rupert agreed grimly.
“Do you think she killed that man?”, Alicia’s voice was barely more than a whisper.
“I don’t know”, Marie kept her eyes on the floor, tracking the footsteps that were fleeing towards the woods, “If she did - she isn’t aware of it”. She glanced at the rifle slung over Rupert’s shoulder, wishing she had both more rifles and more tranquilliser darts.
They moved in silence, the tracks leading them into the woods. Marie stopped and pointed to the pile of clothing - a Malory Towers uniform - nearby. Part of her had been hopeful that Sally hadn’t been turned, but it seemed they had their answer.
“Why…?”, and Alicia’s face furrowed in confusion.
“Any supernatural that shifts throws off their clothing as they transform - where else would the clothing go?”, Rupert nudged the branches aside with his rifle.
“I didn’t really think about it to be honest”, and Alicia followed Marie’s carefully placed footsteps, “I don’t much fancy our chances if we have to fight in these woods”. Marie gestured for the two of them to quieten down as she carried on tracking. Rather than lead into the woods, it seemed Sally had turned and made her way out towards the coastline. Whilst Marie felt an awful lot better about being on in open space, she most certainly did not feel better about how close they were to the school.
Then she heard it. A growl that was all the more terrifying for the fact that she couldn’t pinpoint where it came from. Alicia and Rupert kept walking as she turned around. A crack of a twig drew her attention elsewhere. Then a rustle of bushes sent her attention to her other side.
“We’re being hunted”, she spoke softly, but Alicia and Rupert stopped at her words.
“Is it her?”, Alicia asked and Marie nodded,
“I think so…”, she didn’t get a chance to finish her sentence as a Werewolf charged from the treeline. It had been so long since Marie had encountered a Were that she had quite forgotten how fast they were, how powerful. Rupert was closest and so he took the brunt of the attack, with no chance to raise his rifle, he was slammed into. The sound of his head hitting the floor was loud enough to echo in the cold night air, and Marie had no chance to check on him as the Werewolf turned on Alicia, jaws snapping shut and gripping hold of her shirt but thankfully missing skin. Marie forced her attention off of Rupert. A well-placed kick to the side of the Werewolf’s head was enough to loosen the grip on Alicia’s shirt but it didn’t daze it...her for very long. Marie tried not to think about the fact that the creature trying to tear them apart was a student - a student normally so quiet and calm that it seemed almost laughable that this monster was her.
Marie rolled out of the way of the Werewolf’s teeth just in time, pushing herself back to her feet in a single fluid motion and closing the distance on Alicia.
“She’s so quick”, Alicia scrambled to keep her footing. It was easy to lose sight of their attacker with the darkness cast by the clouds overhead, whenever their eyes adjusted enough to see, the Werewolf had darted off out of view. Then she changed tactic.
Marie made a split-second decision as the Werewolf charged at Rupert’s unconscious form, and she sprinted to cut off the attack. She realised her mistake too late as the Were changed course and barrelled Marie out of the way. All of the air was knocked from her lungs as she clattered to the floor, and she was certain one of her ribs had cracked from the impact. She struggled back to her knees, watching in horror as Alicia was pinned to the floor. She had never heard Alicia scream in all of the unnatural encounters the young Slayer had been forced to endure - and the sound was not one Marie would forget, no matter how long she lived. She staggered to her feet and started running, no matter how futile it was given the distance between them.
Even with time, Marie wasn’t certain she would be able to fully recall the events that followed. She did remember thinking - quite irrationally in hindsight - how dare Darrell go against her instructions to return to her dorm. The sound of the cricket bat hitting the side of the Werewolf’s head was almost sickening. The pop of the tranquilliser being shot behind her seemed to precede time slowing down and the werewolf yelped as it stuck. Dazed from the blow to the head, the Werewolf stumbled for a few seconds before crumpling to the floor.
The hardest part was the flicker of dark blue in the Werewolf’s eyes before the tranquilliser took effect.
Darrell couldn’t remember going to the San.
She remembered plenty of other things. Like following Alicia and the others outside. Like the feel of leather grip against her palm as she panicked to find a weapon.
Like the way the cricket bat cracked when she drove it against the werewolf’s...against Sally's head…
She hadn’t wanted to leave but Marie was insistent that this time Darrell would do as she was asked and return to school. Somewhere in the confusion, Darrell had discovered that Matron was not quite so oblivious to the supernatural goings on as she thought.
She winced as her forearm throbbed. Matron had tutted and fussed, then wrapped up ice and given Darrell strict instructions to hold them to her arm.
“Marie says Sally will be okay tomorrow - besides a serious headache”, Alicia sat down on the bed beside her. She was wearing a distinctly unflattering t-shirt that was two sizes too big; her own shirt had been torn up in the attack. Darrell didn’t know what to say to that so she just sat in silence, not wanting to think about any of it.
“Thank you”, Alicia spoke again, “I am quite glad you chose to completely ignore what Marie told you”, and there was a strangeness to Alicia’s voice that Darrell wanted to ask about but she was just so tired.
“Nothing’s ever going to be okay again is it?”, Darrell said eventually, after silence had gone long past the point of being comfortable.
“I don’t know”, and it was rare for such an admission from Alicia, who tried her hardest to pretend that she knew everything. It was rather worrying in a way.
“What’s going to happen to her?”, Darrell wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer and was quite grateful in a way when Alicia shook her head,
“I don’t know that either”, and Alicia smiled ruefully, “Starting to realise there’s actually rather a lot that I don’t know. I keep asking questions but it feels like Marie picks and chooses which ones I’m allowed to know the answers to”.
“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”, Darrell couldn’t think of anything to say and the quote seemed appropriate. She almost smiled at the look Alicia gave her,
“You and your bloody books”, Alicia muttered.
“Careful, Rupert’s rubbing off on you”, and it seemed normal - for just a moment. Two friends teasing each other. That made it so much worse when the moment passed.
Normally Matron would have ordered the girls back to their own bed, but when she glanced in and found both asleep in the same one - still in their clothes with pajamas folded neatly on the chair - she didn’t have the heart to wake them.
Darrell gripped the rifle tightly in her hands and squeezed her eyes shut.
She really didn’t want to go into the cottage.
She really didn’t want to stay outside it either though.
In the silence of the midnight she could hear the pulling of chains. The low growl. Alicia had assured her that the chains would hold, the cage would hold, that the tranquilliser and the rifle was just a precaution.
Darrell closed her eyes and pushed the door to the cottage open.
Earlier that day.
“You’re not meant to be awake yet”, Alicia turned sharply at the sound of Marie’s voice.
“Except we’re not really ill”, she protested.
“I didn’t send you here just for a cover story”, Marie looked tired - Alicia wondered if she had spent all night in the cottage, “You both are exhausted and needed the rest”
“We’re all rested up” Alicia insisted, pulling her shoes on and doing them up, “Right Darrell?”. She glanced across at her friend, who hadn’t said much of anything since they had woken up. Darrell just glanced briefly at Marie and asked,
“How is she?”
“Waiting in my office”, Marie said, “Do you want to see her?”. Darrell nodded silently. Marie glanced between Darrell and Alicia and then shook her head to herself,
“I suppose there’s no point trying to keep the two of you in here any longer. Come on then”. They walked in silence to Marie’s office. Alicia hated when it was so quiet. It gave her too much time to think. She always thought that was probably why she was so drawn to Betty - there was never a quiet moment there. Alicia shook her head, earning herself a sideways glance from Marie in the process. She didn’t want to think about that right now.
They stopped outside Marie’s office and Alicia watched as Darrell’s hand - no doubt subconsciously - touched her bruised forearm. Alicia felt a flash of anger. She obviously didn’t control it as well as she would have liked because Marie raised her eyebrows at her.
“Do you want us to come in with you?”, Alicia asked, ignoring Marie’s slight head shake. Darrell’s brow furrowed and she looked at Alicia,
“Why?”. Not sure how she would begin to word her concerns, Alicia just pointed at Darrell’s arm. Darrell immediately folded her arms, the injured one closest to her body.
“That wasn't her”, but Darrell didn't sound sure.
Alicia wanted to argue that it was who Sally was now, and that Darrell would see that if she read any of the books, but the look Marie gave her stopped her. So that was how they were going to deal with this then was it? With denial and silence?
“We'll be right outside”, Marie reassured and Darrell nodded, finally stepping up to the door opening it and going inside.
“So we're going to stand here in the corridor like a pair of idiots are we? Jolly good”, Alicia crossed her arms and leant against the wall.
“She shouldn't be in there alone”, Alicia said, “ and this isn't because Sally tried to kill me - although I think I'm quite entitled to be a bit upset about that”.
“You read the sections on werewolves?”, Marie asked
“Yes I know, I read about all the types we know of”, Alicia shifted her feet, “That's why I think we should be in there. I mean fine okay she was out of control when she attacked me, but when she damn near broke Darrell's arm she was still in human form”.
Marie looked unaffected and that frustrated Alicia even more. It was taking every ounce of her will not to charge into the room, yet Marie looked unphased by the fact that Sally could so easily hurt Darrell.
“Do you think I would let Darrell walk into a room, on school grounds no less, if I wasn't sure she was safe?”, Marie asked and Alicia felt an uncomfortable feeling in her chest accompany the blush in her cheeks.
“No…”, Alicia shifted against the wall, “I didn't...I wasn't saying… Sorry”.
“I know you care about her”, Marie said, “This is something they need to do though”.
Darrell couldn't do anything but stand awkwardly near the door as she tried to build up the nerve to say something. Anything. Sally looked pale, and there was the faded remnant of a bruise on her temple. Darrell's hand instinctively moved to her own bruise and how awful it still looked. Her breathing sped up and she reminded herself where she was, that it was day, that…
“I scare you don’t I?”, Sally spoke. Her voice was strange, muffled and choked. Darrell finally got her legs to move and she stepped so that Sally could see her.
“I'm sorry about your arm”, Sally didn't look at her. Darrell wanted to make sure, to see that her eyes were back to normal and not...and not like they were yesterday.
“I…”, and she was surprised at how tearful she sounded, “Sorry I hit you with a cricket bat”. It sounded so ridiculous and clearly Sally thought so too because she laughed - and even though it was quiet and Sally was tired, it sounded genuine.
“Given the circumstances I think you were justified”, Sally said eventually, and she finally looked up. Blue had never been such a comforting colour in all Darrell's life. After another awkward silence Darrell crossed to the sofa and sat beside Sally.
“I really wanted you to come in here and tell me that none of this was real and that I’d had some sort of hallucination”, Sally brushed her fingers against the back of Darrell's hand, “but then you walked in and…I can sense things that mean that this is real. Not to mention everything from this morning”, Sally laughed to herself again, “waking up naked in a cage with one of your teachers in the room is not an experience I ever wanted to have”.
“Werewolves either strip just before turning or rip through their clothes. It's like when people take their clothes off when they have hypothermia”, Darrell was rambling now but she couldn't stop herself as all of her nervous energy overwhelmed her, “it's an unconscious act as a…”. The hug surprised her so much she stopped talking; it took a moment before her brain caught up and she returned the tight embrace.
Marie knocked at the door and waited a few seconds before opening it. She hated to interrupt but the other teachers would be up soon, and all the girls shortly after. Since Alicia didn't manage to hide her anger when she first laid eyes on Sally - it flickered across her face and tensed through the shoulders - Marie was quite grateful when Alicia chose to sit on the windowsill on the other side of the room.
“I'm sorry to have to be blunt”, and Marie perched on the edge of her desk, “but we need to talk about this”.
Three sets of eyes turned on her and Marie glanced between them. Watching one of them - the slayer, no less - had been challenge enough. With two others and Rupert to contend with… Marie tried not to think about it and carried on speaking.
“Sally - you will have to be chained up again tonight, down in the cottage”, and Marie didn’t miss the way Darrell tensed up. Sally - as perhaps was expected given her nature - didn’t give anything away. She kept her gaze levelled at Marie and just nodded. She had to be upset, of course Marie knew that. No-one, no matter how calm and collected could be told they were a werewolf and just take it in their stride.
“Since this is going to be a monthly occurrence, how are we going to keep explaining her absences from the dorms?”, Alicia asked, “and mine and Darrell’s for that matter? It’s going to be difficult enough to explain last night.”
“The others won’t remember anything about it”, Marie said, and she couldn’t quite manage to keep the guilt from her voice, “When you go back to the dorm just act like you were there all night”.
“What did you do?”, of course that was Alicia. It wasn’t meant to be accusatory and Marie knew that it was her own feelings about her betraying her own code of ethics that made Alicia’s words sound like more than they were.
“Never you mind”, Marie said, “Rupert and I did what was necessary, and we will...resolve the issues around yours and Sally’s regular disappearances”, Marie turned her attention to Darrell for a split second, “but from now on, it’s best if Darrell does not get involved”. Darrell finally looked at her and a flurry of emotion rushed across her face.
“But…”, Alicia started and Marie cut her off.
“This isn’t up for debate”, Marie kept her voice steady, “Darrell is not supernatural and the two of you now are.”
“You don’t seriously expect me to...to just stand back and not get involved when...when…”, Darrell’s cheeks had gone a little flushed as she struggled to speak.
“That is precisely what I expect you to do Darrell”, Marie said. Darrell’s eyes hardened for a split second and Marie could see the struggle for her to remain in control.
“Fine”, and Darrell stood up abruptly, “Then I don’t need to stay for this meeting”. Marie had to admire Darrell’s restraint, even just a year previously and there would have been some kind of outburst from her instead of a silent exit from the room, shutting the door quietly behind herself.
Of course Marie had to wonder when that temper would be unleashed but that was a problem to deal with later.
“Where were we?”, she turned back to the other two girls.
“It’s creepy”, Alicia sat beside Darrell and kept her voice low, “How do they not remember us not being there at lights out?”. Despite the glare from Sally, Alicia was positive no-one else was listening.
“How should I know?”, Darrell shrugged and Alicia could practically feel the tension coming off of her friend - she wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or not that they had sports first lesson. Then Irene took her place next to Sally, and all talk of the supernatural and memory loss was gone.
Alicia was quite relieved when the sports lesson went off without a problem - although it did little to improve Darrell’s mood. Alicia kept one eye on Sally as the girls all paired off for their first game of tennis, and noticed that she was struggling to keep her newfound strength and speed hidden. During the break in matches, and when everyone else was grabbing a drink of water, Alicia caught Sally by the elbow and whispered,
“You need to consciously hold back”, she felt Sally try to pull away but tightened her hold, “You’re just about getting away with it now because Darrell’s a good player - when we get swapped around it will be really obvious. You need to be concentrating on reducing every swing, every step”. Sally glanced at her and then nodded. Alicia released her grip on her elbow and they parted before anyone noticed the exchange.
Sally did a little better in the second half, which was just as well since she was paired up against Belinda who - whilst not a bad player - would not have made it to half of the shots Sally had made when playing against Darrell.
The rest of the day’s lessons were so much like they were normally that Alicia found herself getting bored. It was difficult to return to maths and English literature when you had spent the night fighting the supernatural.
In fact, by the time evening came around Alicia was practically looking forward to the fact that she was going to have to take Sally down to the cottage because at least it was something to do. She glanced across at Sally, sat reading on the other side of the common room, and frowned to herself. She hadn’t noticed Darrell leave the common room. It was too late to go and find her so all Alicia could was hope that she hadn’t decided to do something stupid. Alicia tapped on the wooden part of the arm of the chair, just loud enough that she was sure Sally would pick it up with the improvements in her senses. After tapping the same rhythmic pattern for a minute, Sally finally glanced across at her. Alicia nodded towards the clock. There was a flicker across Sally’s face - perhaps the first indication Alicia had seen that Sally was not as calm about all of this as she was putting on - and then she put her book away and walked out of the common room.
Alicia waited for a few minutes, pretending to read, before she got up and followed Sally.
“Any idea where Darrell is?”, Alicia asked as she came up alongside the other girl in the corridor.
“No. She didn’t want to be around when…”, and there was that look again, “I think she’s gone up to the dorms.”
“At least she’s staying out of trouble”, Alicia said, “Shall we then?”
“You could at least try to look like this isn’t amusing you”, Sally fell into step beside her.
“Best to have a sense of humour about these things”, Alicia grinned, “Do cheer up Sally, there’s worse things than going feral once a month”.
Alicia felt a shudder of fear go through her as Sally growled, reminded instantly of the night before. It must have been just as unexpected for Sally because the other girl looked quite horrified.
“We better get you locked up”, Alicia muttered and she quickened her pace. She tried not to think about the cold sweat that had broken out all over her, tried not to remember the terror of being certain that she was going to be torn apart.
“I didn’t…”, and Sally breathed out slowly, “Sorry”.
“Let’s not talk about it”, Alicia pushed the outside door open and they made their way down to the cottage in silence. Alicia hadn’t minded the quaint little building when they were studying; there was something unsettling about it now that she was there to lock up her classmate. Alicia pushed the door closed behind them and the cottage felt far too small.
“Turn around”, Sally grabbed the loose clothes - rather like oversized pajamas - from the table.
“They’ll get destroyed when you turn”, Alicia commented as she turned around.
“I am quite aware”, Sally replied, “but as I told Mi...Marie, there is absolutely no chance - not now or ever - that you of all people are chaining me naked to a wall”. Alicia couldn’t stop herself laughing and she waited good-naturedly until Sally said she could turn back around. Alicia was quite grateful that Sally didn’t look at her whilst she did up the chains around her wrists - it was rather more uncomfortable doing so than Alicia had imagined.
“Fine”, Sally stepped to the back of the cell and leant against the wall, “Then cuffs will fit once…”
“You need anything?”, Alicia asked.
“For you to get out and lock the door”, and when Sally raised her head her eyes had changed. Gone was the blue, replaced by dark amber, and it made Alicia start. She nodded and stepped out, locking the door behind her.
“I need to check the wards…”, and Alicia just left the sentence hanging as she stepped outside, quite certain she didn’t want to see the moment Sally changed.
“If we don’t go - people will die”, Rupert had lost any patience for discussion and was now pacing back and forth in the garden, smoking furiously on the last quarter of his cigarette, “And you and I are no match for this lot on our own - you know we need the slayer”.
“Then one of us should swap places with Alicia”, Marie wondered whether she should take up a vice of her own with all the growing frustration in her life - although it seemed to do little to calm Rupert, “Sally cannot be left unattended in case she gets out”.
“Two people isn’t enough and you damn well know it”, Rupert threw his cigarette into the empty flower pot he used as an ashtray and continued to pace, “We’ve got a fourth person we can use to babysit a werewolf”.
“Absolutely not”, Marie didn’t mean for her voice to be quite so harsh, “I am not involving Darrell in this anymore”.
“That kid is going to get involved whether you like it or not”, Rupert turned to face her, “and you bloody well know that, that’s what you said to Alicia. You ordering her to stay out of it will not last long so we might as well use her”.
“She is not a piece of equipment Rupert, she is a person”, Marie hated how what he was saying made sense, how deep down she knew that Darrell would probably get dragged back in somehow.
“Unless you plan on using some Lethe’s Bramble on her as well….”, and Rupert just shook his head, “You know what, I don’t care. You keep your bloody principals and ethics and I’ll go tell her we need her to stay with Sally. You can go and get Alicia. Unless you particularly want people to die”.
Rupert stormed off before Marie could argue and she couldn’t believe the audacity of the young watcher. She also knew he was right. She took a moment, watched as the moon drifted in behind one of the clouds and started walking towards the cottage.
Darrell hadn’t been sleeping but that didn’t make the sudden intrusion of Rupert at her bedside anymore of a comfortable experience.
“Get up and get dressed”, Rupert said, handing her a pile of clothes, “I’ll meet you outside the door”. She hadn’t questioned him - largely because he had crept back out of the room before she had a chance to - and instead changed into the clothes.
“I thought I wasn’t to be involved anymore?”, Darrell wrapped her arms around herself as she stepped out into the corridor.
“Never you mind about that”, Rupert said and he started walking. His long strides meant Darrell had to quicken her pace to keep up with him.
“Where am I going?”, Darrell asked eventually as they reached the bottom of the stairs.
“The cottage”, Rupert replied, “We need Alicia so we need you to stay in the cottage with Sally”. Darrell had to practically chase him out the door to catch up with him, shuddering as the night air wrapped around her.
“You’re not serious?”, Darrell asked, “What...what exactly do you expect me to do if she...if she…”. But Rupert just kept walking and Darrell just kept following him. Miss Potts and Alicia were waiting outside the cottage when they arrived. Neither looked pleased.
“Here”, Rupert took the rifle from Alicia’s hand and quickly demonstrated how to hold it, then thrust it into Darrell’s hand, “Do not put this down. If she breaks out of her chains then you shoot a tranquilliser into her. She won’t break down the bars before it takes effect.” The rifle felt heavy and unnatural in her hands and Darrell just needed a moment to think so that she could say something - anything - in response to how much of a terrible idea this was.
“She won’t break the chains”, Alicia sounded almost apologetic, “The rifle was only ever a precaution”.
Darrell couldn’t breath properly, her chest hurt and cold air stung her throat as she tried to catch her breath. She looked between the three of them, uncertain whether to be furious about how they had all been so insistent that she no longer get involved less than a few hours ago, or terrified about the fact that they were serious about sending Darrell in there with...with…
She settled on both, but it didn’t help her find her voice.
“We need to go”, Rupert insisted and Darrell was certain that both Marie and Alicia had said things to her but it was like she was underwater, she heard sounds but none of it made sense. All she could do was stare at the door, her hands growing white from their grip on the rifle.
She didn’t say anything to them as they left, just watched over her shoulder as the three of them disappeared into the darkness and left her on her own.
Would you just slow down?”, Alicia demanded, stepping in front of Rupert and Marie, “As much as I do enjoy running head first into danger, I'd at least like to know why I'm jumping into the nesting place of vampire monks, which by the way sounds like the plot of a terrible horror movie”.
“We don't have time for this”, Rupert tried to step past her and Alicia blocked his way.
“Make time, because what are you two going to do if I don't come with you? Last I checked being a Watcher doesn't grant you increased vampire hunting abilities”, and Alicia knew she was probably overstepping some unspoken line and that the Council would be just horrified at a Slayer speaking to two Watchers like that, but she would damned if she cared.
Marie held up her hand and silenced whatever Rupert had been about to say - Alicia had some ideas about what it might have been, none of them very friendly - and spoke,
“As you know when someone is turned they lose their soul”, Marie ignored Rupert storming off to the side and continued, “They retain all their memories and their skills. The last time the Conduit was stopped was by the Greek monks. Three of them moved over here in their final years and it was two of their graves from which the skeletons were raised from so that someone could go into them”.
“Something was taken to do with this Conduit?”
“In a way”, Marie started walking and Alicia fell into step with her, Rupert muttered something along the lines of ‘Thank God’ but Alicia ignored him, “They took a key to a mausoleum out on the grounds of the old monastery. Rupert and I visited it earlier today on a hunch”.
“Ransacked and empty I take it”, Alicia commented.
“Almost completely”, Rupert chimed in, his earlier frustration still present in his voice, “Based on what we did find it would seem that a vampire got to the last of the monks just before his death and turned him. He was locked inside the mausoleum until now, feeding on the rats and mice that crawled in”.
“That's…”, Alicia shuddered, “Why didn't he just break out?”
“Vampires are weak when they first rise”, Marie ushered Alicia and Rupert towards her car with a glance up at the windows of Malory Towers, “without access to food - regular and substantial food - he never would have developed the strength to do so.”
“Plus he was about eighty when he died and that probably didn't help”, Rupert got into the front seat with difficulty and pushed the chair back, “Are there no tall people in your life, Marie?”.
Alicia quickly shifted across to sit behind Marie, glaring at Rupert for nearly crushing her knees.
“So old monk is a vampire. Vampire monk knows how to summon the Conduit?”, Alicia asked, “and now someone - presumably a bad someone - has the vampire monk”.
“Correct”, Marie started the car, it sounded loud in the silence of the night, “now we are going to go to try and stop them before they summon this conduit”
It was completely natural to be scared. That's what she kept telling herself. It was fine to be scared, she just couldn’t show that she was scared. The werewolf...Sally...Darrell wasn't even sure anymore how to refer to anyone, had quietened down after the initial round of growling and yanking of chains. Darrell sat as far away as possibly in one of the chairs and kept a tight hold on the rifle.
It seemed impossible that mere hours previously the monster in front of her had been her best friend. Still was her best friend, she reminded herself. Because Sally didn't ask to be bitten and she didn't mean to hurt Darrell or try and kill Alicia… A growl accompanied her rising fear and Darrell reminded herself that she needed to stay calm. As if that were really a possibility.
She should have brought a book. Darrell glanced at the bookshelf - much closer to the cage than she wanted to go. But if she didn't then she had little choice than to sit here and watch. With cautious steps and the rifle raised, Darrell edged towards the bookshelf. Amber eyes watched her every step. If werewolves had heightened hearing then Darrell was certain her heartbeat must be almost deafening.
She glanced at the bookshelf and quickly scanned the shelves, then reached out and grabbed one of the books, one that looked like it wasn't about monsters. She stumbled backwards as the werewolf - Darrell couldn't bring herself to think her name - threw itself forward, straining at the chains and growling that ungodly noise
“What? Do you want it?”, Darrell found herself shouting and she felt a little ridiculous about doing so, “Find your own book”. She laughed nervously as the wolf levelled a look at her silently and wondered if Sally was still in there somewhere beneath the monster staring her down. Darrell carefully got up and returned to the table, setting the rifle so it aimed at the cage, and opened the book.
The written was almost like scripture but between the elaborate swirls Darrell found the section on Memory Spells and began to read.
“That is the place”, Marie nodded towards the old monastery, “It's been abandoned for years”.
“Can vampires go inside religious building?”, Alicia asked.
“Unfortunately once the last owner has died, yes”, Rupert said, “Some of them see it as this great act of defiance to defile places like this”. Alicia scanned over the windows. Even from this distance she could see a faint glow, probably fire and oil lamps.
“What am I looking for?”, Alicia asked.
“A really old vampire”, Rupert said.
“Given his imprisonment and his age when he died, he will be little more than skin and bones”, Marie added, “Rupert will accompany you inside and I will be there…”, Marie pointed to an oak tree near the decrepit building, “Covering you both”. The crossbow on Marie's back looked heavy and unwieldy - far too much so for her small Watcher to be carrying. It wasn't the time to question her methods though so Alicia nodded and began to creep forward, Rupert close behind her. She heard the rustle of grass as Marie disappeared off to her right, keeping to the tree line as she moved into position.
“What's the likelihood of this being a trap?”, Alicia asked.
“Pretty high”, Rupert conceded, “Unfortunately it's one of those situations where we can't afford to call their bluff”.
Alicia checked her stakes, her bottle of Holy Water, a compulsion ever since that disastrous patrol that seemed so very long ago. As they crouched beneath one of the windows Alicia glanced back to the oak tree, only just making out Marie in the branches overhead
“Boost me”, she whispered and then nodded to the window. Rupert complied and Alicia peered through the window and then lowered herself again.
“At least nine or ten”, she whispered, “We need to stay together”.
“Did you see him?”, Rupert asked and Alicia shook her head.
“Ready then?”, she grinned - nervous energy mostly - at Rupert who offered a smile of his own.
Alicia slammed her stake into the chest of the vampire guarding the entrance, lifting him off his feet and throwing him as she yanked the stake back out. He burst into dust in mid-air. As far as entrances go, Alicia thought this one was quite effective. Rupert brushed past her and slammed the second vampire into the wall, taking advantage of the surprise and burying his stake into it’s chest. Alicia knew that once the others got up to speed, Rupert would be vulnerable, so the more they took out whilst they had the upper hand, the better.
Before the vampires around the table had time to move, she grabbed the end of the table closest to her and flipped it into them, kicking the underside of it and knocking them into the wall.
The zip of a crossbow passing by her made her dodge and turn, just in time to see it embedded into the vampire behind her. Given that the crossbow had looked about fifty years old, Alicia had to admit to being impressed by the accuracy of her mentor. Not for too long though because the vampires had tossed the table aside and there were significantly more fangs than there had been a few moments earlier.
“Rupert!”, and Alicia tossed her Holy Water to him. He caught it with his fingertips and flung it at the faces of the vampires who had split off to corner him. With blinded opponents he had much better odds.
Alicia stumbled to regain her balance as something was smashed against the back of her head. The room spun a little and she felt a rise of panic as the number of vampires seemed to double. Something grabbed her and, after she was certain it wasn’t Rupert, she flung them as hard as she could. She staggered again and shook her head - regretted it - and her vision began to settle. The remnants of a chair told her what had been used to hit her.
Another crossbow flew through the air, this one missing it’s target by an inch or so and embedding in the vampire in front of Alicia. She grabbed that back of the vampire’s shirt and yanked the crossbow bolt out to shove it back in in the right place. Sharp nail dug into her shoulder and she stomped on the foot of the vampire trying to attack her from behind, followed up with an elbow under the ribs and finally threw the vampire over her shoulder. The throw dazed the creature for long enough for Rupert to finish it off.
The rest of the vampires were hesitant now - with so many of their original number in neat little piles of dust on the floor. They huddled and shared glances at each other, obviously debating whether to stand and fight, or to run.
“Wait”, it was an unnatural sound, almost like two voices just out of time with each other, one echoing each other. Alicia spun towards the voice and stared at the being that emerged from the the cellar beneath the monastery. Whilst Marie had been accurate, it hadn’t quite prepared Alicia for the sight before her. She could practically hear bones and skins creak as he climbed out.
“That’s got to be the monk”, she called to Rupert.
“Observant aren’t you?”, Rupert was as flippant as always
“You must be the new slayer”, another vampire emerged from the cellar, holding something cupped in his hand, “You’re a little earlier than we anticipated”.
“I’m impatient, so can we just skip the talking?”, Alicia craned her next to try and see if there were any more vampires about to emerge from the cellar.
“Oh absolutely, in fact - we were just finished”, and the vampire crushed whatever he was holding. Somehow Alicia expected it to be grander. Everything went silent. The sound of Marie’s crossbow releasing was crystal clear in the deathly quiet. The bolt zipped over Alicia’s head - straight at the monk.
The monk collapsed before the bolt connected, and it embedded harmlessly into the wall. The other vampires sprung forward and Alicia cut them off as Rupert raced towards the others.
Training with Marie hadn’t prepared her for the mess and the scrappiness of real fighting. She winced as her lip was split, the taste of blood so unusual in her mouth. Her knuckles grazed as she punched one of the vampires in the face, knocking out a tooth. She glanced over her shoulder - a risky distraction that Marie would have berated her for - to check on Rupert; he was wrestling the vampire who had identified her to the ground, trying to tear open his hand and drive a stake into his chest at the same time. Hands grappling at her shoulders dragged her attention back to her own fight and she headbutted the vampire in front of her, making her head spin for a second time.
The temperature seemed to drop all of a sudden.
The vampires were backing off, staring at the monk. Alicia turned in time to see Rupert fall backwards as the monk launched back to his feet. He was different now though. The bend in his spine was gone, his skin no longer quite so wizened. His eyes had changed from golden to crimson, and he was smiling - this unnerving and terrifying grin that made Alicia feel quite unsettled. She grabbed another stake from her waistband.
“Oh it’s rather too late for that - but we’ll meet again”, the vampire smiled, “Maybe next time you won’t be too late”.
Alicia knew she had tried to run at him, but he was gone before she even made it to Rupert and she crashed into the wall. She turned on the remaining vampires but it seemed that had the good sense to run and the monastery was empty.
“Fuck”, Rupert staggered to his feet.
“That’s one word for it”, Alicia muttered as she stormed out of the monastery.
“I’ve been looking for you”, and Darrell glanced up as Sally sat down next to her beneath the tree, “Marie said you stayed in the cottage for most of last night, she only took over first thing this morning”.
“It seems my involvement is flexible, depending on how they’re feeling at any given moment of the day”, Darrell muttered, not putting down her book although she wasn’t really reading it. Hadn’t been since she first sat down actually.
“Hey”, and Sally gently took the book from her hand, “Talk to me?”
“About what exactly?”, Darrell demanded, glancing at her friend, “What would you like to talk about?”. Sally looked hurt and Darrell wanted to apologise because it wasn’t fair to take this out on Sally - or anyone really - but she was just so tired and confused. Angry too - she always seemed to be a short step away from losing her temper these days.
“I hear there was trouble last night?”, Sally said eventually and Darrell nodded.
“Turns out the Conduit was the old monk - when he was defeated the last time he must have been bound to the monk. The others didn’t move over here to live out their days - they brought him over here to be entombed”, Darrell ran one hand through her hair, “They thought if everything to do with the Conduit and how to summon it was destroyed - then even if someone did ever let the monk out, he’d just be a vampire with a demon trapped in his head. Clearly that plan didn’t work out as they expected”.
“How’s Alicia?”, Sally asked.
“Angry, guilty, frustrated”, Darrell leant her head on her hand, “I could probably list more adjectives but I think you get the idea”.
“And you?”, Sally asked, and Darrell recoiled as her friend - quite deliberately - brushed her finger over her sleeve, just over her bruise.
“I don’t want to talk about it”, Darrell said, folding her arms.
“I…”, Sally hesitated and then moved to kneel in front of Darrell, “I wish I could not be what I am - you know that right? If I could go back and just leave that stupid necklace on that...on that stupid log…”, Sally’s voice was starting to shake and the mask she had kept so firmly in place for that past few days started to waver. Darrell grabbed her hand and squeezed it.
“I know”, Darrell closed her eyes, “I...I didn’t want to be there this morning when you changed back - it’s too hard”.
“I get that”, Sally used her free hand to wipe away the tears that had made it past her defenses, “I don’t particularly want to be there either but I don’t get much choice in that”, Sally hesitated and then spoke again, “Are we going to be okay?”
Darrell dropped her head, stared at their hands for a moment and then swallowed the lump in her throat,
“I don’t know”.
“There’s a demon out there who could potentially wipe out the population of Cornwall overnight, and I still have to go to French”, Alicia paced the corridor as they waited for the rest of their class to join them. It was a pleasant Autumn’s day - the sun making a surprise mid-day appearance - and their usual hiding places to go and discuss vampires and demons were all filled with school girls enjoying the weather after lunch.
“Marie doesn’t want us to draw anymore attention to ourselves than we have already”, Sally had said it already and her insistence on repeating it was starting to bother Alicia.
“So as long as no-one finds out I’m a slayer and you’re part-wolf then it’s fine for a demon to run around unmonitored?”, Alicia wanted something to do with her hands, worried that she might do something utterly foolish like hit a wall in her frustration.
“Rupert is monitoring”, Sally pointed out and Alicia had to concede agreement to that.
“It’s not like he can fight it though”, Alicia said, her pacing becoming a little less frantic, “He’s only information gathering”.
“Look - the Conduit seems to be reliant on vampires at the moment, and it is inside a vampire’s body”, Sally sounded like it actually pained her to be talking at such lengths with Alicia, “so it cannot do much during the day”.
“Except plan and scheme, preparing for that special day”, Alicia muttered.
“You are tiresome sometimes Alicia”, Sally groaned.
“Well don’t think I’m exactly keen on spending all this quality time with you either”, Alicia leant against the wall beside Sally, “but unless you know someone else with supernatural strength and power who isn’t going to get themselves killed by going up against a demon, we’re stuck together”. The bell rang for the end of lunch and they both stood up properly, left the corridor in opposite directions. Marie’s insistence on this routine bordered on paranoid as far as Alicia was concerned. Her watcher seemed to becoming almost frantic with trying to keep everything to do with the supernatural hidden from the rest of the school. Which of course meant that Alicia and Sally couldn’t be seen waiting in the corridor together for French because of all the strange things to happen at Malory Towers recently, Alicia and Sally getting along would probably be amongst the strangest.
“Where have you been?”, Irene practically stumbled into Alicia with Belinda not far behind, “Didn’t see you outside”.
“Getting up to no good”, Alicia replied, “or so rumours might have you believe”.
“See - I can’t work out if you’re bluffing or not”, Irene kept walking and Alicia fell into step with her classmates.
“I like to keep you all on your toes”, Alicia replied. She caught the glance between Irene and Belinda, had seen it before as well. It was the look they - and many other girls - shared when they wondered whether now was finally a good time to ask about what happened with Betty. Alicia had gotten quite used to stopping those moments from developing.
Thankfully she didn’t have to do anything this time because they were soon bundled in amongst other girls in the form and filtering into the French class. Alicia slid into her usual seat; Betty wouldn’t be sat silently beside her today as she had been sick during the night, or at least that was what Alicia had overheard. It suited her just fine.
Girls took their seats quietly and began to get books out of their desks. Alicia cast her eye over the room and stopped on the empty chair beside Sally. She tapped firmly on the desk until Sally turned around, and then raised her eyebrows in question. Sally shook her head and shrugged.
Alicia pursed her lips. Darrell had been jolly strange since the night of the Conduit’s awakening. Alicia knew it had something to do with having to stay with Sally in her werewolf form, but the other girl simply wasn’t interesting in discussing it. The other girls in the form were noticing her odd behaviour as well, which was bound to be causing problems for Marie’s desperate attempts to keep everything normal.
“Bonne après-midi”, Mademoiselle Dupont said as she stood to approach the board, smiling as she always did at the chorus that responded. Mademoiselle had just finished introducing the lesson and writing the first task on the board when the door opened and Darrell finally arrived.
“Ah! Late, mon petite”, and Alicia felt uncomfortable on Darrell’s behalf as Mademoiselle ploughed on, “You are never late. You have an excuse?”. Darrell actually blushed under the scrutiny and Alicia squirmed a little in her chair as Darrell replied quietly to Mademoiselle. It must have just been an apology and assurance that it wouldn’t happen again because the French teacher didn’t look completely happy with the exchange but nodded for Darrell to take her seat. Darrell didn’t look at anyone as she took her place.
Alicia sped through the French tasks so she could return to simultaneously monitoring the tense situation a few desks in front of her, and thinking about the night ahead of her.
She rather wished she had been afforded hypersensitive hearing as part of the Slayer package because waiting until the end of the lesson to find out what was going on between Darrell and Sally was almost painful. She practically threw her books into her desk when the bell rang.
“No you don’t”, and Alicia caught Darrell’s arm tightly as she went to turn the corner of the corridor.
“What?”, Darrell glanced at the rest of their class, still walking to their next lesson, “Can’t we walk and talk?”
“Once they’re far enough away”, Alicia nodded to the other girls, “Why were you late?”
“I got caught up reading”, Darrell shook Alicia off and started walking, forcing Alicia and Sally to follow her, “Didn’t hear the bell”.
“You were down in the cottage”, Sally supplied and Alicia shook her head with a grin.
“You’re not good at not being involved are you?”, Alicia said.
“Well perhaps if you would all make up your minds about how much I’m meant to be involved then I would know the rules”, Darrell didn’t mean to raise her voice and the backwards glance from the girls at the other end of the corridor was indication enough that she had, but she was just so tangled up over what she was meant to talk about and where she was meant to be drawing the line. Really, was it right for her to just step back now they were talking about the end of the world?
“I’m quite happy for you to go on reading books in Greek”, Alicia slung an arm around her shoulder and gave her a one armed squeeze, “As long as that doesn’t translate to getting into fights with demons”.
“I’m not stupid”, Darrell knew she sounded sullen, and she hated sounding like that. She was almost an adult and here she was acting like a child. She sighed and shrugged off Alicia’s arm, “I found something anyway”.
“About the Conduit? I think Marie and Rupert have been through all the books in the cottage - which one was it?”, Alicia asked as they turned into the corridor for maths.
“The one about the first time it was summoned…”, Darrell started.
“They’ve poured over that for hours”, Alicia said, “That and that other scroll they found at the monastery, about the earliest mention of the Conduit, we’ve exhausted all of it”.
Darrell wanted to interrupt Alicia and just get her to listen to what she had to say but they were already at the classroom and she had no choice but to keep her mouth shut and go inside.
“Darrell…”, Sally started when they were given time to finish off the questions from the textbook - they were always allowed some quiet talking then - and Darrell knew she wasn’t going to like what Sally had to say, “maybe you need to calm down with all of the research you’re doing…”
“Right and pretend that I might not die a horrible death at the hands of an ancient demon?”, Darrell kept her voice low - low enough that she was certain that no-one else would have heard - but it didn’t stop the warning glare from Sally.
“Could you try to be subtle?”, Sally asked. Darrell couldn’t quite explain the peculiar sensation in her chest, perhaps it was simply pent up hurt and frustration about the increasingly dismissive way her two closest friends were treating her when she was trying to help. Perhaps it was just silliness. Either way Darrell just sighed and turned her attention back to her questions,
“Fine, I...I won’t go down there again”, she swallowed the lump in her throat, “I just wanted to help”.
“You got out alright? And the ward is in place?”, Marie asked as Sally and Alicia arrived at the cottage.
“You’re clucking”, Alicia was as cheeky as always, even with how tired she looked, and Marie had to admit it was quite refreshing.
“I prefer to think I’m being cautious”, Marie shot back.
“Semantics really isn’t it?”, Alicia grinned and then she glanced at Rupert, “You’re all dressed up and ready to slay, what’s the plan?”
“Something of a division of labour I’m afraid”, Marie said, and she directed Alicia to the map on the table, “There’s two new vampire nests popped up since the Conduit was summoned - I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many are moving into the area”.
“Demon turns up and vampires throw a welcome party?”, Alicia asked, looking over the map.
“More like vampires come running to become part of the demon entourage and to power the Conduit”, Rupert replied, “We’re betting that’s where it gets it’s name. The text says - in every mention we’ve found of the vampires assisting the conduit - the Conduit draws strength from the killings of it’s minions”.
“So the vampires bond to the Conduit and power it by killing people?”, Alicia raised an eyebrow.
“Essentially”, Marie said, “So the increased number of vampires in the area certainly ties into that”.
“So is this investigate or seek and destroy?”, Alicia asked.
“Bit of both”, Marie pointed to the nest furthest away from the school, just over half an hour’s drive away, “This one seems quite small, but it’s deep underground - Rupert and I are going to do surveillance on that one”, she pointed to the closer nest, “This one is more heavily populated - and growing, I am very concerned about it’s proximity to the school”.
“So we are going to go and destroy that one then?”, Alicia asked.
“That’s the plan - kill the inhabitants, douse the ground with holy water”, Marie explained, “but do be careful, don’t go charging in unprepared and do not get separated”.
“Don’t worry, I’ll look after her”, Alicia grinned and she glanced aside in time to see Sally roll her eyes.
“Rupert and I will be back long before morning, meet us back here”, Marie grabbed her holdall from the side, “Check the nest throughout for anything to do with the conduit before you leave”.
“You look worried”, Rupert commented as they made their way towards the car.
“I don’t like leaving them alone”, Marie sighed, “One of us really should stay…”
“They’re not as daft as they act sometimes Marie”, Rupert nudged her with his elbow, “and this way makes the most sense - if we divided up the strength we’d be putting the girls at the school at risk”.
“I know...it just…”, and Marie realised that she was on the verge of opening up to her young charge and admitting that she was scared, which seemed rather inappropriate, so she stopped talking.
“I think sometimes ignoring the boundaries of seniority is a good thing, Marie”, Rupert opened the passenger door and got in, “and I think if you’re going to be scared - this demon’s as good as anything to be scared of”.
“Can you smell vampires?”, Alicia asked as they watched the entrance to the vampire nest from their vantage point.
“Unfortunately”, Sally replied, “Just be glad you can’t”.
“Is it true you sense different emotions as well now?”, Alicia asked, and Sally nodded.
“Fear’s a big one”, she said.
“My reading suggests there’s other ones as well - must be difficult in a school full of teenagers, all those hormones”, Alicia grinned.
“It’s been an interesting few days”, Sally conceded, and it dawned on Alicia that this was probably the most civil conversation they had had in days.
“Anything worth sharing?”, Alicia asked and she saw Sally look across at her, try to read her face, “of course, you wouldn’t tell me if there was”.
“Work it out yourself”, Sally said.
“Ruin all my fun”, Alicia grinned and she peered out into the darkness, “I’ve seen at least nine different vampires so far - you?”
“There’s eleven in the nest - pretty poor numbers for us”, Sally turned to face her, “What’s your plan?”
“Marie gave me these”, Alicia handed Sally one of the vials of Holy Water, “I think she’s starting to run low on this but I guess she just needs to get on of the reverends or someone to bless some more water for her...I don’t suppose we can do it ourselves. Anyway”, and she didn’t miss the flicker of amusement across Sally’s face, “I think pitching these in to distract as many as possible with the hideous facial burning would be our best approach. Here”, and she handed Sally a stake, “the pointy end goes in their heart. Don’t be afraid to push really hard”.
Sally looked at the stake with a strange expression that Alicia would have loved to have understood, but it was gone as quickly as it arrived.
“Ready then?”, Alicia asked, and she grinned when Sally nodded, “be quite nice to see you attacking someone other than me”. That prompted one of the glares that Alicia was more accustomed to being on the receiving end of.
Something felt wrong from the moment they charged into the nest. Alicia knew that Holy Water was painful, but something about the reactions from the vampires seemed more extreme than others she had fought. She slammed her stake into two vampires in succession, hearing the bursting of others behind her as Sally did the same. The few vampires that had remained standing were flailing blindly around themselves, almost panicked. There was no fight to be had, no struggle. Alicia moved quickly from one to the next, Sally right by her side, dusting vampire after vampire. When the final one scattered into dust across the floor and the nest was empty Alicia slowly scanned around - expecting a second round to emerge from a secret doorway.
“There’s no more”, Sally said, “I’m not complaining but…”.
“...that was far too easy”, Alicia was already turning around to leave the nest, “They were all newly turned vampires, every one of them. That’s too much of a coincidence”.
“What does that mean?”, Sally followed her back out into the night.
“That this was a distraction”.
How could she have been so foolish? Marie rubbed the back of her head as she gingerly got back to her feet and stared up out of the giant hole she had managed to stumble into. She might - one day, if she survived this - allow herself to think about how expertly the trap had been hidden; and how no-one really would have expected such a rudimentary trap.
None of that helped right now though when she felt like an absolute idiot.
“Marie?”, Rupert’s voice came from above her.
“I’m here”, Marie called as she looked around, her eyes adjusting to the dark.
“You got rope in the car?”, Rupert asked, “I’ll lower it down...this is bloody priceless by the way, like something out of a movie”.
It felt like ice wrapped it’s way around her heart as Marie realised she wasn’t just in a hole - the trap had been set so that she had fallen straight into some kind of cell. As her eyes adjusted more, she realised that she wasn’t alone.
“Rupert?”, she called.
“I need you to get back to the school”, Marie called, “You’ve got the spare keys?”
“What the bloody hell are you talking about?”, Rupert asked, “I’m not going to…”
“Would you just listen?”, Marie shouted as another two vampires stepped into view and smiled broadly at her, she recognised them from the monastery, “I need you to go. Now. Get to Alicia. We’ve made a mistake”.
“Marie? I..I can’t just…”, and that was the first time Marie had ever heard Rupert - cocky and self-assured Rupert ‘Ripper’ Giles - stutter in all the time she had known him.
“We can’t lose the Slayer”, she replied as the cell door was opened, “You know that’s more important”.
As the vampires stepped closer and she tightened the grip on her stake, she could finally breathe a sigh of relief as she heard Rupert take off running. Which was precisely when the first vampire lunged for her.
It was still bothering her. The translation. She had smuggled the book out of the cottage and hidden it under her bed - Miss Potts would absolutely not approve - and she still wasn’t certain that the others had seen what she had read.
Perhaps she should have been more persistent about telling them what she had read.
Darrell shivered despite her blankets and rolled onto her back. Someone had left the window open. Part of her wanted to berate the girl responsible for being so careless but she could hardly blame them when they didn’t know what was out there.
Still - it wasn’t exactly warm.
Darrell got out of bed and padded over to the window, glancing briefly at the empty beds usually occupied by Alicia and Sally as she did. Even though she had read about Lethe’s Bramble - and checked her bed over twice to make sure that nobody intended on using it on her to alter her memory - it was still quite eerie to have everyone act like Alicia and Sally had been there all night, even when they had been absent since before light’s out.
Darrell shuddered - not from the cold this time and reached out to pull the window shut.
The hand that grabbed her wrist and yanked her out appeared so quickly she didn’t have time to curse her own stupidity for falling for such an obvious trap. Vampires couldn’t cross the school threshold, no matter how many windows were open.
By all rights she should have fallen and - after a horrible and terrifying few seconds - either died or been seriously injured.
Instead she was face-to-face with crimson eyes on a slow descent to earth. The Conduit smiled.
“I have plans for you”
“ If it wasn't the school they were after then maybe it was Marie and Rupert?”, Alicia suggested after they checked all the wards around the school, “Nothing got in here”.
“Is there any chance we missed something?”, Sally asked, “Darrell said she'd found something in the books…”. Alicia felt a little uncomfortable as she thought about how she had brushed Darrell off earlier and sighed.
“Go wake her up”, she said, “ease your guilty conscience if nothing else”. Sally disappeared inside and Alicia waited, watching her breath mist in the cool of the night. Headlights shone in the distance and Alicia breathed a sigh of relief when she recognised Marie's car. It pulled into the car park, parked wonky. Marie would never park her car like that. Rupert climbed out of the driver’s side and Alicia felt an uncomfortable tingle at the back of her neck. She waited for the passenger's door to open but instead Rupert ran towards her.
“There was a complication”, Rupert said, “Marie sent me back to check on you”. There was something off about his voice but Alicia didn't have time to think about it as Sally burst out of the door behind her,
“She's gone”, and Alicia had never seen panic from Sally before.
“You checked…”, and Sally cut her off,
“I checked everywhere and..and there's no trace of her, at all”, Sally said, “I tried to track her but it ended at the window in the dorms”.
Alicia ran her hands through her hair as she tried to get her brain to think. It was usually so quick and now it felt like something was jammed in the turning mechanism,
“Can you track her out here?”
“I can try...you think someone's taken her?”
“I think something has”, Alicia said, “Do you...need anything to track her?”
“I'm not a dog, Alicia”, and that would have been funny in almost any other context. Alicia held up her hands in apology and stepped to one side,
“Go on then”, and she fell into step behind Sally, turned her attention to Rupert, “Where’s Marie?”.
“Still out at the other nest, she said she would regroup with us later”, Rupert said.
“Without her car?”, Alicia frowned, glancing over at the vehicle.
“She's a resourceful woman”, and it sounded almost like Rupert was trying to reassure himself, but Alicia couldn’t quite place what it was that didn’t feel right.
“I'm pretty sure the demon has her”, Sally said, “I don't know what a demon’s scent is but it's not vampire or human”.
“What the hell would he want with her?”, Alicia demanded.
“Bait”, Rupert's voice was soft, “She's vulnerable and important to both of you”.
Alicia didn't want to respond to that - didn’t want to think about that - so she kept following Sally past the woods and for another ten minutes. The lights of the town were off to their south.
Sally stopped. Looked from side to side. When she turned around there was a strange turmoil to her face. Alicia realised that she didn’t really see emotion in Sally’s face very often. The other girl only ever seemed to take off her mask around Darrell. Alicia had the feeling she was about to see it shatter.
“We have a problem”, Sally’s voice was quiet, but it didn't mask the tremble, “There's….there were a lot of vampires here, met up with them. Three went that way with Darrell.”, she pointed towards the east.
“Okay, so what's…”, Alicia started but Sally cut her off.
“The demon and all the rest of the vampires went that way”, Sally pointed to the town.
Alicia felt a little sick as she glanced at the two different paths.
“The Conduit is powered by the killings of it's minions”, Rupert whispered, “the massacre is going to start”. Sally glanced between the two of them and then back to the path Darrell had been taken down.
“Alicia, that town is full of people”, Rupert said, already stepping towards the path that would lead them to town.
“I know, I know”, Alicia waved off his attempts to continue speaking, “Just let me think will you?”.
“There's no time to think”, Rupert was insistent, “It is one person versus hundreds, potentially thousands. There is no choice”.
Alicia looked at Sally but the other girl wouldn't meet Alicia's gaze.
“I know”, Alicia’s own voice felt weak and her stomach turned as she realised what she had to do, “Sally...you know we can’t…”.
Sally tensed up, her hands clenching into fists, “we can't just…”.
“We have to”, Alicia said.
“They'll kill her”
“I know”, Alicia stepped forward and squeezed Sally's shoulder, “but you know we can't go that way. I need you with me if we're going to stop this demon”.
Sally looked for all the world like she was going to refuse, to take off following Darrell's trace, but finally she turned around and started walking.
Alicia didn't comment on the tears.
Marie was quite certain she was going to die a horrible and undignified death at the hands of these vampires, and right now she almost wished they would just get on with it. She had dusted three before being overpowered and tossed into a cell and locked in. Then they'd left her. Just walked off and left her with little more than a few bruises and to her own devices. Of course the wicked smile that disappeared into the dark told her that they had much more in store for her.
She hoped Rupert had made it back to the girls in time to stop whatever was happening. It had been too clean, too convenient. Marie paced the cell and told herself over and over that she should have known better. But that didn't help her now and it wouldn't help the others.
Clearly there was some kind of plan for her and Marie had some ideas about what they might be, each worse than the last. Either way the vampires were preparing for something. Which gave Marie time to think. Precious little time, but time nonetheless.
Alicia would have been able to break down the bars with some persistence, Marie knew that her attempts to do that would only lead to exhaustion on her behalf. No - using her wits was how she would get out of this. Vampires might retain their knowledge and skills but undead instincts also overrode those more often than not.
Marie lowered herself to the floor and scanned across the dirt and dark for something with a sharp edge. She found a nail. She turned it over in her hands and hesitated, then set it beside her to keep looking. If there was something else she would much prefer not giving herself blood poisoning. They had taken her stake off of her unfortunately or else that might have been suitably sharp. Then again that had the risk of splinters…
Marie laughed to herself - a strange sound in the silence of the cell - and wondered what she was doing? Dismissing possibilities because of the risk of infection and splinters which could be treated, unlike the imminent death which would be much harder to bounce back from. She cast her eyes across the floor one more time and this time spotted a glint of light off of a shard. She carefully moved forward and picked up the shard of glass. It was red, perhaps from a stained glass window. She wondered if this used to be a church. Then she frowned to herself and shook her head - what sort of church had cells in it?
She used the bottom of her shirt to clean the dirt off of the glass and then hid it in her palm. Now she had no choice but to wait.
If Alicia had been harbouring any lingering concerns about this being yet another distraction then that was swiftly wiped away by the screams from the village. Rupert started running first but a few strides too Alicia past him. Within seconds Sally had matched her pace.
Alicia had wondered how the vampires intended to get any victims when they couldn’t enter a household without being invited. As she stared at the town, at the fires blazing from the nearest houses, she had her answer. She had to admit it was clever. Horribly clever but clever nonetheless.
“Where the bloody hell do we start?”, Rupert asked as people ran into the street.
“Follow me”. Alicia hadn’t ever taken charge of a situation - or at least a Slayer situation - before. She had always had Marie for that. That niggle returned to the back of her mind, questioning whether there was something more involving Marie that Rupert hadn’t mentioned but she pushed it back down, reminding herself that right now she needed to deal with this.
Their arrival did not go unnoticed by the vampires storming the street.
“Rupert, left side. Sally on the right. Do not get split up”, Alicia instructed as four vampires charged down the narrow street towards them. The heat from the flames warmed one side of her body, and the crack of wood burning ticked in her ears. The first vampire - blood still warm on his lips - swung at her. Blood lust made them stronger but clumsy. Alicia ducked, then sprung back to get him off balance. She kicked out at his shin and knocked him to one knee, then followed up with a straight kick under the chin. It was almost surreal the way he flew backwards in a perfect arc, but she didn’t have time to admire it as a second vampire grabbed her from behind. This one was latched on tightly, and Alicia could feel it’s breath against her ear as it desperately tried to descend on her neck. There was a rush of cool air as the vampire was yanked off of her and Alicia turned in time to see Sally pitch the vampire into the flames engulfing a nearby house.
Alicia would never admit to feeling sorry for a vampire but the scream it let out as flames licked through it’s undead body, just before it burst into dust, would stay with her for a very long time.
The other vampire was back on it’s feet and Alicia finished it off with a stake through the heart.
“How the hell did so many get here without the Council notifying us?”, Rupert demanded, “This isn’t some quickly put together meeting of the undead”. Alicia had seen Rupert angry - to be honest he spent a lot of his time recently being angry - but this was something else. His whole face was strained as he tried to maintain a facade of control.
“We need to find the demon”, Alicia said, getting him to focus again, “That’s what’s heading up this massacre”.
“We can’t just leave people to be killed though”, Sally said, “If every person the vampires kill powers this demon in someway, we need to be stopping them too”.
“Alright, alright”, Alicia started walking, expecting them to follow, “Then we…”, she hesitated and then shook her head, “We keep going, can you still track the demon”. Sally didn’t look very confident when Alicia glanced at her.
“It’s...there’s a lot of other traces here”, Sally said.
“Can you try? Please?”, and Alicia was never going to admit to anyone else that she was panicking but she was quite sure that Sally saw it on her face because she nodded. Alicia let Sally take the lead, and each step they took brought them closer to the sounds of more fighting, more death.
“I...I can’t anymore”, Sally recoiled slightly and shook her head, “the…”, she closed her eyes and settled herself, “the smell of blood is too strong”. Rupert reacted to the words first, pushed between the two girls and out into the town centre.
Alicia wasn’t sure how she didn’t react.
The only explanation she could come up with was that she was so horrified by what she saw that her brain shut down her emotions. There must have been ten bodies if not more scattered across the town centre. The blood was everywhere. Two vampires were still feeding, the legs of their victims kicking out and getting weaker and weaker. Alicia felt something snap in her chest and she charged down the closest one, slammed her stake through it’s back before it had time to look around. The second one managed to stagger to it’s feet before she killed that one too. The second victim - a young man - stared at her for a moment and Alicia opened her mouth to say something when the light disappeared from his eyes.
Alicia was used to being in control, and that included of her emotions. Now it felt like everything she had ever kept pent up inside was threatening to break out of her chest.
That’s when it appeared.
The Conduit stepped into view at the other side of the square. It smiled - actually dared to smile - at her, as if all of this was terribly amusing. Alicia knew better than to let her emotions control her but she found her legs moving towards it.
“Alicia!”, that was Rupert’s voice but she ignored it. Vampires emerged from behind the demon and the Conduit directed them towards Rupert and Sally, shaking it’s head at one of the vampires that tried to charge her down.
“You’ve lost people tonight Slayer”, the Conduit’s voice still made her skin crawl and her hairs stand on end, made her chest tighten in an automatic fear reaction, “Might lose more still”.
“Not planning on it”, Alicia shot back. The Conduit grinned and then turned and walked away. Alicia began to run, quicker and quicker. She blocked out Rupert’s shouts from behind her, tooks twists and turns down the narrow streets to keep the conduit in view. It was toying with her - glancing over it’s shoulder and grinning broadly, always making sure it stayed close enough for her to see it.
Then it darted into one of the burning buildings and Alicia thought nothing of charging in after it. She stumbled over something and fell onto all fours. She crawled forward a few steps and then glanced over her shoulders.
A blank, lifeless face stared back at her.
The whole world stood still for a moment as Alicia’s heart damn near stopped. She rolled onto her back and backed away from the body. Her eyes blurred and she couldn’t say if the tears were from the sight or the fire. She scrambled back to her feet and pushed the image away, desperately trying to fill her mind with something else, something to concentrate on. She stumbled through the front room - smoke was starting to seep in - and into the kitchen. The sound of floorboards cracking sounded over head and she started to run.
The ceiling collapsed.
A door opened somewhere and Marie tensed, reading to start putting her plan into action. All the breath was knocked from her lungs when the door to the main room opened.
“Darrell?!”, she hadn’t meant to call out, and she immediately regretted it because it highlighted a vulnerability, but it happened so quickly. One of the vampires half carrying, half dragging Darrell glanced in her direction and grinned. Marie didn’t even get a chance to see if she was alive or dead before she was taken into another room.
The silence gave Marie a minute to re-evaluate her plans, the need to get out of here greater than ever.
That’s when the scream pierced the room.
Marie only heard the one, although she could definitely hear the sound of scuffling - maybe shoes kicking out against the wall - and lower, restrained whimpers. Darrell was trying to stop herself from crying out again. Marie wanted to block her ears and not hear the sound of whatever the vampires were doing in the next room, but she couldn’t - it wouldn’t be right. Eventually it fell silent. In some ways that was worse.
Marie couldn’t stop her body from shaking, and she was sure that her palm was getting cut by the glass that she was trying her hardest not to crush. The door reopened and one of the vampires from the monastery stepped in. Blood speckled across his face and when he spoke, Marie could see blood on the tips of his fangs. Her hold on the glass tightened. This time she felt it slice her palm.
“You’re needed next door”, he said, pulling the key for the cells out of his pocket, “We’re nearly done with the girl”. The key clanged in the lock and he began to turn. Marie squeezed her palm tightly, hoping that there was enough blood.
“Are you planning to kill me now?”, Marie asked.
“Oh she’s not dead...not yet”, and there was that wicked smile again as the vampire paused, “The demon had a much better idea for her, given how desperate you all are to protect her”, he yanked the door open, “Can you imagine the Slayer’s face when she has to kill a monster wearing her friend’s face?”. The vampire chuckled to himself, Marie knew she hadn’t hid her horror at the realisation that they intended to turn Darrell now that they were finished with her, and that clearly they intended her to watch. They would be sorely disappointed.
She watched as the vampire caught the scent of her blood, as his eyes widened and his attention was drawn to her hand. She let him get in until he was close and she opened the palm of her hand. In that split second, with the vampires bloodlust overpowering his thoughts, she struck. She swiped her hand wildly, gouged across his eyes with a single swipe of the glass.
The vampire howled and staggered backwards. Marie tackled him out of the door of the cell, not wanting to be caught in there when the others came in. She threw punch after punch into the vampire’s face, his blood coating her knuckles with every blow. As he lay beneath her, dazed and punch-drunk, Marie grabbed one of the chairs from near the table and dragged it towards herself. She swung it as hard as she could against the ground and grabbed one of the legs that splintered off. It took a lot of force to drive it into the vampire but as she finally pushed it into his chest and his face froze in that split second of realisation and horror, she finally allowed herself to smile back at him, she wanted her face to be the last thing he saw.
She didn’t have time to catch her breath as the other two vampires had finally arrived, far too late to save their friend. She snatched up the remains of the chair - still with two legs attached - and swung that at the closest vampire who was knocked off her feet and to the floor. The second was more cautious, keeping his distance and looking for any opening. Marie circled, made sure that two walls were to her back. As much as she didn’t like the thought of being forced into a corner, being caught from behind was far worse. The first vampire was back on her feet and her impulsiveness got the better of her. She ran at Marie, who stepped to the side and propelled the vampire into the wall behind her then followed up with a stake through the back. Before the second could take his chance to grab her, she dodged back out of the corner - freer to move around now they were one on one. Marie threw her stake to one side, snatched up one of the other legs from the destroyed chair and wielded that instead. She was patient, she could wait.
The vampire - it seemed - could not.
Once a vampire was off balance, charging and enraged it was easy to use their own weight against them. One well placed trailing leg and the vampire sprawled across the floor with an almighty thud. Mustering up the last of her fighting strength, Marie finished him off.
She took a second to catch her breath then straightened back up and walked into the other room, dreading what she would find.
There wasn’t as much blood as she had dreaded - although if they were planning to turn Darrell once Marie was there perhaps in hindsight that wasn’t so unusual. There was still far too much for Marie’s liking and she felt her chest ache as she carefully approached Darrell. Darrell fought against the shackles suspending her from the ceiling but it was obvious she didn’t have much strength left.
“It’s me - they’re gone”, she whispered, grateful when it calmed Darrell’s panic. Marie lowered Darrell from the shackles, catching the girl as her legs gave out beneath her.
“I’ve got you”, she whispered as she helped Darrell to her feet, “I know you’re hurting but we need to get out of here before the rest of them realise what’s happened”. It looked like Darrell nodded and Marie helped her walk to the door, having to half carry the girl.
“Once we’re out of here I’ll find a car and we’ll get you help”, Marie winced at the volume of her voice. Even when she kept it as low as possible it seemed to bounce off the stone around them. She tried not to think about the morals associated with stealing a car either. Although she suspected Rupert and Alicia would be rather proud and surprised of her for having the skills to do so.
“You need to tell them”, Darrell began to walk more under her own strength as they made it half-way up the stairs, “You need to go”.
“Tell me when we get to a car”, Marie said and led the way through corridors, listening for the sound of movement up ahead.
The door - thankfully - didn’t creak as they opened it and stumbled out into the country air, and Marie put one of Darrell’s arms around her shoulder and moved them away from the door as quickly as possible. She stopped at the first car she saw and carefully lowered Darrell to sit against it. She pulled off her jacket and held it to the driver’s side window, then put her elbow through it. She brushed away the smashed glass from the seat, leant over and unlocked the passenger’s door, and then dug her fingernails into the join of the material around the steering column. She stripped back the necessary wires and sparked them. The car started up.
Marie stepped back and lifted Darrell back to her feet and took her around to the passenger’s side, then opened it and lowered Darrell into the seat. After a moment to catch her breath, she crouched to check Darrell’s injuries.
The head wound must have been what incapacitated her - given the dried blood that matted Darrell’s curls to her head - and the blood around her wrists was from pulling at her restraints. The cuts and gouges to her torso and the bites up her arms, they were sport and Marie felt sick as she saw them.
“You need to go to hospital”, Marie said, turning Darrell to sit properly and doing up her seatbelt.
“Right - another mystery animal attack”, Darrell muttered and Marie couldn’t think of anything to say to that so she just ran around to the driver’s side and started the car. She pulled away from the pavement and turned in the road to drive back towards Malory Towers.
“Am I going to die?”, Darrell asked.
“No”, Marie wasn’t sure if she was quite as certain as she sounded.
“Drop me off at the cottage then”, Darrell shifted in the seat with a wince, “There’s provisions there. You need to get to the others”.
“Miss - would you just listen”, and it struck Marie that Darrell was the only one of the three who still didn’t call her by her first name. She risked glancing away from the road - despite her excessive speed - to look at the young woman beside her.
“You need to get to them”, Darrell repeated, “because they don’t…”, and Darrell took a moment to gather the strength to speak, “The Conduit...gets it’s name because it draws strength…”
“From the kills of it’s minions”, Marie took a corner a little too fast and finally forced herself to reduce her speed when she just about kept it under control.
“No”, Darrell shook her head, “I reread the earliest record, it was mistranslated - they got…”, and Darrell laughed but it sounded empty, “It was out by just a bit, by just a plural. It’s not the killings of it’s minions - it’s the killing of it’s minions”. Marie frowned, unsure what Darrell was talking about and wondered if she was repeating herself as she began to become delirious from her injuries. Then the words - the difference - caught in her brain and she felt her breath catch.
“Killing it’s minions...that’s where it’s strength comes from? So every vampire they slay?”, Marie looked across at Darrell again. The girl nodded.
“Makes it even stronger”.
Marie pushed the accelerator down harder again.
Alicia’s head felt like it was going to explode. Pain throbbed and waned as she tried to pull herself to her feet. Her vision didn’t seem to move as fast as her head and the image of the world around her dragged a second behind. She stumbled back onto her knees, scuffed the palms of her hands as she put them out to break her fall.
Where was the Conduit?
She could hear noise in the distance or at least it sounded like the distance but if her hearing was as scrambled as her vision then it could be right on the other side of the buildings. The flames flickered overhead and she lay down on her side to get a better look at them.
She didn’t have the strength to stand. Not after what she’d seen. Not after what she’d chosen to do. She felt pathetic - surely this wasn’t what Slayers were meant to be like. Maybe she just wasn’t cut out to be a Slayer after all. She shook her head, angry at herself for being so self-pitying and for a second there was fight back in her limbs. She struggled back up onto her knees and was just summoning the strength to get back up when an arm under hers pulled her upright.
“Lying in the dirt is an entirely undignified look for you Miss Johns”, and Alicia didn’t mean to but when she found herself staring into Marie’s face - steady and unwavering - she burst into tears. Marie grabbed her other arm and steadied her as Alicia tried and failed to calm herself.
“This isn’t the Slayer I’ve been training”, Marie commented, “Nor the girl who’s been causing staff members to pull out their hair for five years”.
“I can’t do this Marie - don’t you see?”, Alicia couldn’t believe she was crying. She never cried. And in the middle of the end of the world of all places, when she was supposed to be fighting until her last breath to keep the world safe.
“You have done so far”, Marie let go of her arms, Alicia’s strength must have been slowly returning because she didn’t sway.
“Well this it where it runs out”, Alicia said, “I can’t do this anymore, I’ve messed everything up and so many people have died already…”
“So you’re going to lie down and let even more die? That doesn’t sound like the same person who’s been training with me for the past few months”, Marie was trying to get her annoyed, get her angry, get her focused. Alicia was frustrated to realise it was working.
“You know, I thought you would have figured out by now that I talk a lot to cover up a lot and you really shouldn’t listen to half of what I say”, Alicia muttered.
“Oh I am quite aware of that”, Marie grabbed Alicia’s arm and it looked like she just about restrained herself from shaking her, “but that doesn’t mean you just give up because maybe you talk bigger than you are”.
“I let her die”, Alicia’s voice was small now and she didn’t want to say the words, didn’t want to confess to what she had done, “Darrell was taken, and I had to make a choice, so we left her to die”.
“So now you’re going to give up, get upset and let that be for nothing?”, Marie asked, “She’d be pretty angry about that, probably a bit ashamed of you as well”, Alicia felt that flame of anger grow a little bigger, and she found her legs moving to follow as Marie started to walk.
“Where are the others?”, Marie asked, helping Alicia to climb the fence out of the back garden.
“They were in the square when I chased after the Conduit - they should still be there”, and Alicia could only pray that they were still alive. She caught sight of movement at the other end of the street, saw two vampires slink through the shadows and she turned towards them.
“Not them”, Marie pulled her, “I’ll explain in a minute”.
Alicia didn’t want to leave the vampires alive to add to the demon’s strength, but Marie didn’t say things like that without good reason. So she tore her gaze away from the shapes disappearing into the darkness and continued after Marie.
“There they are”, Alicia pointed and her voice was almost back to normal, the front back in place. Alicia felt a shot of guilt as she realised that Rupert was injured, carrying his right arm.
“Marie!”, and his face lit up, for a just a moment, with relief.
“I'm tougher than I look”, Marie smiled, “We have a problem”, she dove straight in, “The Conduit doesn't take its strength from the innocent people it's minions kill. Every vampire you kill powers it.”
“That's...problem isn't quite a strong enough word for that”, Rupert said, “What the hell do we do now?”.
“We can't sever the connection, so we reverse it”, Marie pulled the screwed up paper from her pocket. She thought of Darrell for a moment, thought of telling them. She glanced at their faces, exhaustion and anger. She focused on Sally. She knew that the girl wouldn't turn outside of the full moon but there was something about her that looked inhuman. She hesitated. It wasn’t right but she needed their anger
“Won't that make lots of super-powered vampires”, Sally asked.
“One power source spread across hundreds of vampires is much preferably to one central pot of power”, Rupert said, “Plus I’m betting if we bump off the Conduit and then start cutting down vampires, a lot of them are going to turn and run. They’re here for the easy massacre, they’re braver because of the demon.”
“They’re still going to kill”, Alicia pointed out and Marie nodded.
“You will never save everyone, and that is a heavy burden to carry”, Marie said, “and I wish we had more time to discuss it”, Marie smoothed out the paper, the second part of the summoning spell for the Conduit, “We reverse the key parts of this - once it has been cast Sally, Rupert and I will focus on the vampires. Alicia - the Conduit is yours”.
“How exactly will I know that this worked?”, Alicia asked as she checked she had everything she might need. She was starting to think that if they survived this she was going to insist on some training with some kind of blade. Preferably a really big one that was especially designed for beheading demons.
“I don’t know that you will”, Marie said, “I’d like to think there’ll be a visible indication but there might not be”.
“So I just attack him and hope that you managed to work your magic and if not then…”, Alicia shook her head, “you know what? I’m not going down that line of thinking”.
“Positive thinking?”, Rupert grinned.
“Outright denial actually but rather similar”, Alicia said, “Are you ready?”. She glanced at each of them. Marie and Rupert nodded straight away, Sally just avoided looking at her. Alicia knew that she would follow Marie’s orders, probably vent some of that unspoken rage and grief on whichever vampires she got hold of. She was more concerned with what happened after.
Alicia wasn’t even sure how she would deal with her grief once all of this was over.
“If this works, I’ll see you soon”. The walk back towards where she had last seen the Conduit felt surreal like she was walking through a dream. Nightmare was possibly more of an apt description. She was under firm instructions to try and avoid as many vampires as possible and if she had to intervene then to beat to a pulp but leave them undead. Alicia thought she could manage that.
She could hear her footsteps. She wasn’t sure that the quiet was a good sign. She caught glimpses of terrified faces at the houses which hadn’t been hit yet, hoped that they were so traumatised that they wouldn’t remember her face. Reprimanded herself for thinking such a callous thought. She turned her eyes back to the road ahead and kept walking. Even if she didn’t find the Conduit, she was pretty sure it would find her.
It was awful having an audience. It sounded ridiculous really given that she taught for a living, but then she would argue that there were significantly more risks involved with casting a spell than teaching a group of thirteen year old English. There was a constant reminder at the back of her mind that if she got something wrong then Alicia was going to die. The Conduit had amassed too much power already from the vampires that the others had killed, Alicia would not stand a chance.
“You need to step out of the circle”, she said to Rupert and Sally, who both dutifully stepped back. Sally took an extra few steps just to make sure. Her caution almost made Marie smile.
“Rehearsed your lines?”, Rupert could always be relied upon for a flippant comment, even if it was desperately forced to hide his true feelings. She nodded and ran over them silently one last time, Latin got a bit rusty if you didn’t use it every day. Even then, the sorts of Latin that Marie ever got to use in her daily life was quite far removed from what she was about to say.
Taking one final breath, she started. The words fell from her tongue, clear and steady. She let the powder filter from her hand to the centre of the circle as she spoke. Poured and talked until all the powder was gone from her hands. Kept talking, tried to keep her words at an even pace. If she didn’t she would stumble over them and that would…
She forced her mind back on the words as she went into the second verse.
Darrell was - in a strange, pain driven kind of way - quite proud of the fact that she had managed to suppress the pain long enough to convince Miss Potts to leave. Of course, in the time that had passed since her teacher had left, she was beginning to wonder whether she should have asked to have been knocked unconscious.
Pain meant she was alive. That was meant to be comforting she supposed, but when every movement brought with it agony it was small comfort indeed. She had already taken as many tablets as she was allowed and they were starting to take effect, just not as quickly as she would have liked.
They were certainly making her drowsy though.
Darrell didn’t want to sleep. The idea of closing her eyes and allowing the darkness to engulf her was too much. What if her eyes never opened again? What if they won and they returned to her and found…
She was trying not to think about what the demon had said to her. What the vampires had said to her. Not about the fact that Alicia wouldn’t come for her. She had known that part, had expected nothing less. She would have been furious if they had sacrificed the lives of others for her. No - the other things. If the vampires hadn’t been so arrogant then they would have turned her and set her loose on her former friends.
Darrell couldn’t imagine hurting any of them. Logically though, she knew she would have. She wondered if she would have thought anything of it as she tried to kill them. She knew better than to dwell on it but it wasn’t like she was going anywhere.
She lay back on the sofa and just hoped that the painkillers would work soon.
“I thought you had died”, Alicia stopped at the sound of the voice from behind her and glanced over her shoulder.
“Sorry to disappoint”, she turned around slowly, “Takes a bit more than a burning building to finish me off I’m afraid”.
“You’re confident aren’t you?”, the Conduit slowly started to circle her and Alicia mirrored his movements, “Then again Slayers always are - I’ve met a few over the years”.
“I bet they were just thrilled with that”, Alicia glanced to check no vampires were luring nearby, not wanting to be blindsided.
“They were cocky - oh and rather brave I must say”, the Conduit stopped walking, “not that it helped them in the end. Shame really - such a short expiry date on you Slayers”.
Alicia tensed up before she could tell herself not to. The words struck a note inside her that had been bothering her ever since her first meeting with Marie.
“They have told you haven’t they?”, the Conduit took a step towards her, he had changed so much since Alicia had first seen him. The old vampire whose face he had once worn was almost unrecognisable with the way the demon had altered and twisted his whole body.
“I’m not really one for small talk”, Alicia said, then wondered if perhaps she should be stalling for time for Marie’s sake.
“I can kill you soon as look at you - I’d make time this once, or it’ll be a quick fight”, the Conduit continued, “new Slayers are called when the current one dies...or rather is killed. Generally Slayers last a few years in post before someone gets to them”, the demon grinned broadly, “Some last much less”.
Alicia knew that at the very least she had expected something like this but hearing it from the moving tones of the demon made it seem all that much worse - if being told you were going to die young could get much worse.
“Have I upset you? So sorry”, the Conduit took a step closer, almost within reach, “You see I…”, and then he froze. There was this look of utter bewilderment on his face and he gasped for breath as his body began to shudder. He took another heavy step and his body jutted and jolted before spasming into an arch and then he finally dropped to one knee.
“What have you done?”
Alicia took a step closer and cocked her head to one side, “I’m not planning on dying today - so we evened up the odds”, and with the she kicked the demon in the end, sending him sprawling into the dirt. He bounced off the ground with force and immediately struggled to his feet. Despite her act of confidence, Alicia had been well briefed on how powerful the demon was without the additions of his minions. He was quick as well. The first punch grazed her cheek as she moved out of the way just in time, the second she dodged with a little more ease and then darted backwards to put more space between them. The next time he moved in she jammed her elbow into his stomach, doubling him over and then shifted to the side, steadied his bowed head with her hands and slammed her knee into his nose.
Demon blood looked more like human blood than she expected, although there was a strange blue tone to it amongst the deep red.
She didn’t manage to dodge his follow up attack and whilst she was still dazed by the punch she felt claws plunge into her shoulders, tearing through her clothes and down her back. She recoiled and arched her back, grabbed his head and twisted as she threw him over her shoulder. Her own blood glistened from his nails as he turn in mid-air to land on his feet. Alicia was already following up with another attack, two punches to the torso and a backhand across his face. As she turned again to avoid his flailing attack she put her hand into her pocket. Marie had given her a blade - much small than Alicia would have preferred, but a blade nonetheless - and told her not to let it be used against her. She yanked the blade from her pocket and plunged it up through the demon’s chin.
The Conduit gasped and Alicia grimaced as she realised she could see the blade glistening inside his mouth. He reached for her, bloodied nails and gnarled fingers twisted to grab whatever he could. She pulled the blade back and slammed it back into his temple. Blood splurted from beneath his chin, down his front and over Alicia’s as well. She pulled the blade out for a second time and kicked the demon hard in the chest. He staggered for a moment and then collapsed.
Blood gargled from his mouth, flooded into a puddle at his head, and Alicia shoved her blade back into her pocket. She kept watching the lifeless body as she walked over to one of the wooden fences that decorated so many of the front gardens in this town and pulled one of the bigger posts out. She walked back to the demon and took a steady breath before raising the post and smashing it into his head. She kept hitting him. Over and over until there was no face, barely any head to recognise and then she finally dropped the post.
She stared at the mess and wondered what they were supposed to do with the bodies of the supernaturals that they killed.
That wasn’t her problem right now. She needed to find the others.
“They’re running”, Rupert breathed heavily, bracing himself on his knees as the vampires turned tail and started to flee, “Should we chase them down?”
Under normal circumstances Marie wouldn’t want to leave any vampires free to kill another night but these were far from normal circumstances so she shook her head.
“They know the Conduit is gone”, she said, “They will have felt the strength leave their bodies”.
“So she bloody well did it then didn’t she?”, Rupert grinned. Marie smiled to herself and caught the shift of Rupert’s eyes to past her shoulder. She turned and she watched as Alicia walked towards them.
“Is it over?”, Alicia asked when she finally reached them.
“This part? Yes”, Marie said, then she glanced at the bodies left in the square and her face grew solemn, “The Council will take over from here”.
“Good fucking luck to them coming up with a cover story for this”, Rupert sat down heavily on a nearby wall.
“I wish I didn’t have to say they’ve covered up worse”, Marie said, “this will all be gone by the morning and only we will remember the full details of what went on here”.
“Do you have to call them or something?”, Alicia asked, and the question sounded heavy and weary as if Alicia were just asking it for a distraction.
“Oh they’ll be here soon enough”, Marie said, “Nothing happens without them knowing about it, did you not wonder why there were no fire services deployed when the houses were ignited?”
“The Council have someone everywhere”, Rupert said, “I’m half convinced there’s someone working for them in secret at your school, planted to keep an eye on rogue Watchers”. Marie’s attention was caught by Sally starting to walk back towards the school, she called out to her and walked over when Sally stopped.
“I need to go back to follow her trace”, Sally’s voice was quiet and unwavering, perfect and utmost control in place, “Even if she’s…”, a waver in her her voice was quickly covered, “I need to bring her back”.
Marie breathed out slowly and finally confessed her earlier deceit,
“I found Darrell”, she decided - for now - to omit the details about herself being held captive, “They took her out to the other nest where Rupert and I were. She’s in a bad way, but she is alive”. Marie hoped that last point was true.
“You didn’t say anything”, and Alicia’s voice had regained some of it’s fire, and Sally was looking at her as if she wasn’t sure whether to get angry as well or whether to burst into tears of relief. Marie started to reply and then noticed the black car and two black vans driving down the road towards the town, and she turned to Rupert,
“Would you take the girls back to the cottage? Our friends from the council have finally arrived”.
It took every ounce of strength she had, but Darrell managed to make it to the bathroom. Sweat was pouring from her face and she braced herself against the sink. She had been dreaming - vivid swirls of colour and clashes of sound. She had woken in a panic, barely able to breathe and with pain coursing through her blood. Even now it felt like her blood was trying to boil out of her skin and Darrell knew what was happening…
“They’ll feel truly awful for it, but they won’t come for you”, the Conduit dropped her onto the grass, “the werewolf will take it especially hard”.
Darrell didn’t know what to say. Were you even supposed to respond to a demon, or was that the sort of thing that got you killed sooner. So she bit her tongue and simply stared back at him. It was truly terrifying when he smiled, and Darrell was not a good enough actor to hide her horror.
“They don’t realise - not even the vampires that are going to meet us here - that I have a contingency plan”, the Conduit bent over and grabbed Darrell by the back of her neck, “They think they’re going to turn you into one of them, but I have much grander plans for you. See your friends...the Slayer and her Watcher especially are tricky, and I always have a back-up plan”
‘You know I'm in here with you don't you?’ , Darrell stared into the sink and her grip tightened. She reached out and turned the tap on.
‘It's either that or you're going mad, but you know the truth’ , she squeezed the flannel and wiped at her face. Dropped the flannel in the water, squeezed. Blood. Did it again.
‘I know you didn't forget our little conversation’ , and she finally looked up into the mirror. Her eyes darkened as she watched her own reflection, the brown of her eyes gave way to black and then crimson.
‘I'd say I'm the better deal’ , the conduit whispered again, ‘far better to have a demon headmate than be undead don't you think?’ .
Darrell turned away from the mirror.
‘Oh you made the perfect choice, that's the worst part really. There was no happy ending on this one. I made sure of that. I'm a patient sort - I can wait’ , and her mind cleared as if nothing had ever been there.
It seemed to take forever for her to get back to the sofa, having to practically crawl the final few metres. She had only been sat down for a moment when the door to the cottage flew open.
Darrell wanted to say something when she saw Sally but her voice wouldn’t co-operate. It seemed Sally’s wouldn’t either because she tried to speak, then again, and finally closed the distance between them and fell to her knees in front of Darrell and hugged her tightly.
It hurt - of course it did - but Darrell didn’t complain, just buried her face in Sally’s shoulder and tried for a moment to forget the rest of the world.
“I still can’t believe they covered it all up”, it had been three days since the attack, and just as Marie had predicted the Council had swept in, erased all trace of anything happening in the town, concocted a story about a gang of criminals that sounded so ridiculous to Alicia but was perhaps more palatable to the rest of the UK than admitting that demons were real, and then disappeared.
Alicia had thought that the families of the people who had died, or the people who had seen the vampires would have spoken out but so far nothing…
“They’re very good at what they do”, Marie said, “Is Sally coming?”
Alicia shook her head and hopped up to sit on the desk, “She’s in the San with Darrell - Matron basically gave her permission to stay as long as she wanted this weekend. Do you want me to get her?”
“No...no that’s alright”, and Marie took a seat in her usual chair, “It’s best that Darrell isn’t left alone too much right now, she...well…”.
“I’m just glad you got there in time”, Alicia said, “I must admit to selfishly really not wanting to have to deal with… if they had turned her”.
“I’m just sorry I didn’t get to her before they hurt her”, Marie sighed.
“How are you going to explain the injuries to her parents?”, Alicia asked.
“There’s still three days until the end of term, if Matron’s calculations were accurate then the salve should have healed most of the injuries by then”, Marie stood up again, feeling restless.
“First spells to destroy demons, now concoctions to wipe away scars. Is there anything else you’ve got hidden away?”, Alicia swung her legs back and forth.
“Oh there’s still plenty that you don’t know about yet”, Marie smiled, “Now before you go, I will not be able to leave Cornwall should something happen closer to you during the half-term, but Rupert will be back in London for at least some of the hols - give him your house number just in case”.
“Looking out for me?”, Alicia hopped off the table, “Or just keeping me in line?”
“Maybe a bit of both”, Marie smiled and then spoke again as Alicia put her hand on the door handle, “I am very proud of you - nothing about this has been easy”.
“I had some moments where you absolutely shouldn’t be proud of me though”, Alicia kept her hand on the door handle.
“Yet I am”, Marie said, “and I know this is probably frightfully embarrassing for you so I shall let you leave, I just felt it warranted saying”.
Alicia hesitated as she pulled the door open, then finally looked at Marie,